Even as the number of people killed by drivers in the U.S. continues to climb—due to what many attribute to pandemic-related reckless driving—studies keep rolling out that point to predictable patterns in where those crashes are likely to occur and who is most likely to be impacted. Two of the most recent studies come from opposite corners of the U.S., well before the pandemic began.
There is no doubt that Americans love big vehicles. In 2010 just under 53 percent of estimated new vehicle sales were made up of trucks and SUVs. That number has jumped to 78.5 percent in 2021 according to JD Power. Unfortunately, the rate of pedestrian fatalities has also risen during that time frame. Pedestrian deaths have increased by 46 percent in the last decade, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, with over 6,500 pedestrians killed in 2020 alone. A new study provides one explanation for why these two trends may be connected.
The Seattle DOT, in seeking to improve pedestrian mobility, is installing marked crosswalks in areas with anticipated demand, which is an important shift away from the conventional warrant-based system. The final form that these installations take—paint alone, or paint with enhancements such as medians or flashing beacons—will depend on the location, and ultimately still be a matter of engineering judgment and available funding.
The death of a well-known cyclist in Phoenix, Arizona, persuaded the city DOT to scrap changes it had proposed for an essential local street, in favor of protected bike lanes. As the Phoenix New Times reported, the death of a cyclist and downtown ambassador in central Phoenix galvanized supporters to call for protected bike lanes in the area of the crash. The city Street Transportation Department moved away from installing lanes shared by drivers and bicyclists, to painted, buffered bicycle lanes, and, on some blocks, fully protected bike lanes.
The state DOTs in Washington (WSDOT) and Utah (UDOT) recently developed methods to evaluate the comfort, safety, and connectivity of active transportation networks, focusing on bicycle and pedestrian connectivity across highways. Guidance and support for both projects came from the Federal Highway Administration’s 2018 Measuring Multimodal Network Connectivity Pilot. The studies leverage newer data sources and GIS techniques to think about how highways can create barriers for nearby communities and how major corridors can be made more permeable.
With consistent growth in most urbanized areas around the world, changes to the built environment to accommodate multimodal travel will become one of our most important adaptations. A recent study from Melbourne, Australia, of pedestrian flows over five years found that built environmental changes accounted for 50-60% of the increase in foot traffic in the downtown region.
New considerations for setting speed limits have the potential to shift the practice away from the historic norm of service to drivers, and toward the safety and accommodation of all users.
New analysis of FARS data by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points to crashes being more survivable for drivers of large SUVs than for drivers of smaller cars. While driver death is one measure of safety, there are a number of other criteria that offer a richer story of SUV safety, such as their contribution to emissions and increased dangers to those not inside the vehicle.
Transportation professionals who spend more time behind the wheel tend to believe distracted walking plays an overstated role in pedestrian deaths, according to a new Rutgers study. This belief can steer professionals toward trying to correct pedestrian behavior, rather than focusing on the change that would reduce pedestrian deaths most: lowering vehicle speeds.
U.S. mayors recognize safety and environmental issues resulting from automobile traffic, according to a new survey from Boston University. But they are leery about implementing commonly accepted remedies like lower speeds, more enforcement, reduced parking or separated bike lanes.