In 2017, there were 93 pedestrian accident fatalities across Colorado, an 80.4 percent increase over 2009. Researchers say road design can make it easier to cross the street safely on foot.

Research Identifies Ways to Make Crossing Safer and Prevent Accidents

The miracle of an average city street, on an average day: Dozens of 4,000-pound, metal and plastic machines move back and forth at 30 mph or more. Here and there, a few 150-pound, flesh-and-bone humans move at 3 to 6 mph across the traffic lanes, believing that they can beat the traffic and cross the street without serious injury or death.

It’s miraculous that most of the people will make it across the street safely. But it’s more incredible that they’ll keep taking the risk every day … heedless of how close they come to death.

In 2017, there were 93 pedestrian accident fatalities across Colorado, an 80.4 percent increase over 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Those people were among nearly 6,000 walkers to die in traffic crashes across the United States that year, according to separate reporting by National Public Radio‘s Camila Domonoske.

Understanding where, when, and how the added pedestrian accidents are happening can point to solutions for reducing future deaths, according to David Harkey, president of The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety laboratory, which pointed to some preliminary conclusions in a recent status update. The analysis is showing researchers that road design and vehicle design, along with improvements to lighting and speed-limit enforcement, can add significantly to safety.

Steps to Improve Pedestrian Safety

The researchers were not surprised by large increases in pedestrian deaths on major “arterial” roadways, which often lack enough safe and convenient places for pedestrians to cross, he said. People are more likely to sprint across multiple lanes of traffic than to walk a long distance to an intersection with marked and signaled crosswalks.

The observation draws an easy conclusion: Municipalities and other road-building government agencies can improve safety by giving walkers more options to cross safely. However, it’s insufficient simply to paint more crosswalks on the asphalt. Crossing points also need features to warn motorists to stop, such as pedestrian-activated beacons.

The article pointed to several warning systems and design elements that can make the road safer for walkers:

“Pedestrian hybrid beacons” have shown clear reductions in pedestrian accidents where they are installed, IIHS said. The beacon is dark until a pedestrian hits its activate button, then a progressive flare of blinking yellow, solid yellow, and solid red lights erupts to ensure that drivers know that someone is afoot.

Curb extensions and median crossing islands can add a degree of safety by shortening the distance walkers need to travel to cross.

Other improvements, such as curb extensions or median crossing islands, can shorten the distances to safety for pedestrians crossing multiple lanes of traffic.

Sidewalks, although a basic structure, are not a given along major roads. For obvious reasons, though, they can reduce the risks facing pedestrians walking along these roads.

Adding pedestrian safety features, though, may call for drivers to give up a little of their turf. Employ some of these features and maybe add a bicycle lane, and you’ll get what traffic engineers sometimes refer to as “road diets.” More safety essentially requires smaller, slower roads.

Intentionally having to drive more slowly is practically an alien concept in America’s car culture, but it’s not merely a byproduct of greater safety for pedestrians, IIHS says. High traffic speeds cause more-frequent and deadlier auto accidents. The faster a car is going, the less time the driver has to see and react to a pedestrian in the roadway. Higher-impact speeds, naturally, result in more serious injuries for crash victims.

Policy Changes Have Long-Term Effects

Florida, the Sunshine State, was once known for high numbers of pedestrian-involved traffic accidents just as it was known for its crowds of tourists and aging retirees.

The trend changed after state and local leaders changed their road design objectives, which long had emphasized the speedy movement of cars and trucks, not pedestrian usage, according to reporting by Reuters new service writer Carolyn Crist. The transformation began in 1983 when officials began adopting “Complete Street” policies. Instead of merely adding safety features to existing roadways, the Complete Street philosophy required road designers to incorporate the needs of non-drivers into their design principles. Over the following three decades, pedestrian deaths dropped significantly in comparison to national trends.

Robert Noland, a Rutgers University transportation researcher interviewed by Crist, said:

“Years ago, traffic engineers and planners were designing roads for cars with the objective of high-speed traffic, but now we’re going back and trying to understand how road design has affected fatalities.”

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