Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Crosswalks can still pose a danger to those on foot

How many of us who cross busy streets daily have been buzzed at one time or another in the crosswalk by a car whose driver apparently just couldn’t wait for the walker to clear the road?

Too many, it turns out. And most of the time, all you can do is shake it off, clench your teeth and bite your lip.
                                                 Crosswalks can still pose a danger to those on foot
Unfortunately, pedestrians in our automobile-dominated culture are too often ignored in this manner. Sometimes the results are tragic. St. Louis is one of the U.S. cities whose rate of pedestrian injuries or deaths has grabbed the attention of the Federal Highway Administration. The agency has included it among its so-called “focus cities” that require extra attention to shore up safety.

“I think everyone is just starting to become aware of this pedestrian-safety issue,” said Meredith Klekotka, TravelGreen manager at Trailnet Inc. in St. Louis.

Americans are walking — and bicycling — more. So while motor vehicle crash fatalities are on the decline, the number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths have been on the rise since 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Part of the problem can be traced to our culture and part of it can be linked to the construction of St. Louis roads, which were designed for a larger city, she said. Pedestrians who cross downtown streets, for instance, can spend 80 to 90 feet in a street. Meantime, pedestrians may have to go well out of their way to cross at a downtown corner. As a result, we see a lot of dangerous mid-block crossings.

Missouri’s pedestrian laws, meanwhile, are antiquated. They have been on the books since the mid-1960s, are not as tough as laws in other states and are “probably out of date,” Klekotka said.

Making our streets safer for pedestrians will take a multipronged approach, according to safety advocates such as Klekotka. Laws will have to give police more authority to enforce crosswalk safety. Streets can be re-engineered to reduce a pedestrian’s exposure. (We have seen curb extensions that reduce the actual driving surface that needs to be crossed on foot.) And there is plenty of room for public education.

On the national stage, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has declared pedestrian and bicyclist safety a top department priority.

Tougher laws don’t necessarily mean pedestrians would be safe. A survey released last week by the Active Transportation Alliance showed that drivers stopped less than 20 percent of the time when pedestrians tried to cross a street within a marked crosswalk. Compliance was lower on unmarked crossings, the group said.

Chicago and the state of Illinois have “must stop” laws, requiring drivers to stop when someone is in a legal crosswalk.

“In Chicago, we’ve got a long way to go before a lot of drivers even are aware of this law,” said Ted Villaire, a spokesman for the alliance. “It is not very good compliance.”