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Maryland road safety head, Post's Halsey blame pedestrians and even Michelle Obama for fatalities

Pedestrian fatalities stopped declining in early 2010. Unfortunately, a safety nonprofit and its chairman, Maryland's highway safety head, chose to blame pedestrians for getting killed while downplaying other, equally important causes.


Photo by Transportation for America on Flickr.

According to the report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, an association of the safety departments of the various US states and territories, the overall number of pedestrian fatalities increased by 0.6% in the first half of 2010, possibly halting a four-year decline in pedestrian crashes.

The report (PDF) also evaluates a number of possible causes, including the rise in pedestrian travel, distracted driving, and distracted pedestrians. Even though it cites about the same number of anecdotal cases where the driver seemed to be at fault and where the pedestrian appeared responsible, the GHSA press release and quotes from GHSA's chairman, Vernon Betkey, Jr., the head of Maryland's Highway Safety Office, twists the report into a one-dimensional message blaming pedestrians for the crashes.

GHSA gave the Examiner a statement actually claiming that Michelle Obama's initiatives to get more people outside walking and exercising could be a cause of the deaths. Not only is that ridiculous, it's misleading: even if more people walking has led to an increase, more people walking will lead to safer conditions generally.

If more people are walking, the rate number of crashes may rise simply because of numbers, but the actual crash rate, any person's chance of being hit or killed, is lower. More pedestrians get hit every year in New York than in Miami, but it's far more dangerous to be a pedestrian in Miami; it's just that so many more people are walking in New York. More get hit in downtown DC than elsewhere in the city, but walking is riskier in many of those other areas.

The press release also ignores the report's recommendations that government do more to design safer roads. Perhaps that's not a surprise since the organization comprises state highway safety officials who have done little to even admit to, let alone address, their governments' complicity in these pedestrian deaths.

In his writeup of the report, the Post's Ashley Halsey III buys into Betkey's narrative wholesale. He talks about how many fatalities in Prince George's and Fairfax counties, in particular, involve crossings at night, away from crosswalks.

But missing in this discussion is the question of why people are trying to cross dark roads where there are no crosswalks. In many busy areas of those counties, there are shopping centers along multi-lane arterials with poor lighting and long distances without crosswalks. If someone on foot wants to get to one of those stores and isn't in a car, they have few alternatives. The pedestrian could be more careful, but also the government could be putting in better streetlights, crosswalks, and traffic signals.

To frame his piece, Halsey cites a fatality in Landover which did involve a signalized crosswalk. According to the article, the pedestrian signal was flashing the red "don't walk" hand icon, during which time three teenagers ran across the road. A driver hit and killed 15-year-old Wayne Cuffy. Halsey's piece is dripping with accusations against Cuffy:

It is the kind of risk teenagers take: darting across six lanes of traffic, paying no mind to the flashing sign warning pedestrians to await the green light. Wayne Cuffy and his buddies bolted across Landover Road on their way to the mall Tuesday night, a mistake that cost the 15-year-old his life when he stepped in front of a Ford Expedition at Dodge Park Road. ... It was dark, and rush hour was winding down when they dashed into traffic toward the mall. Cuffy was struck just after he left the curb.
But wait. The signal was flashing the red hand. That means the traffic light was red for cross traffic. For the driver to hit Cuffy, the driver had to have run the red light (added: or made a turn without yielding).

Yet there's absolutely no mention of this fact in Halsey's article. Who's really at fault: a teenager who hurries to get across the road before the light changes, but while cross traffic has still got the red light, or the driver who hits him despite the red light?

Other state officials did acknowledge these issues, like this statement in the report from North Carolina:

Rapid urbanization, a weakened economy, and growing numbers of vulnerable populations (including older pedestrians and socio-economically disadvantaged groups) without other transportation options have challenged the State to keep up with issues specific to pedestrian safety and mobility.
Or from Nevada:
Like many other places in the southwest, the road network in Clark County consists of arterials that are designed as six lanes with intersections jumping to eight lanes. In urban area that bisects freeways or beltways, intersection can be as large as 12 lanes! Streets are flat with wide lanes that are comfortable for speed and there are few places marked for pedestrians to cross the street. On major arterial streets the norm is to have nowhere for up to a mile stretch for pedestrians to safely cross the street.
Betkey seems to ignore this serious problem in his own state. It's too bad the safety heads from North Carolina or Clark County, Nevada aren't the ones running GHSA, and that the safety official in such an urbanized state is blind to the other serious factors behind pedestrian safety besides

If you live in Maryland, please email Betkey, his boss Neil Pedersen, and Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley and express your disappointment that your safety official is ignoring serious road design issues. Ask them to prioritize fixing dangerous roadways in Prince George's and elsewhere in the state that give pedestrians no safe opportunity to cross streets.

It's easy to blame iPods or Michelle Obama, but more important to work to make the roadway network actually usable by pedestrians. That's the real way to improve both the numbers of people walking and their safety.

Update: GHSA is disavowing the Obama quote to Dave Jamieson of TBD, but the Examiner reporter, Scott McCabe, insists they suggested it.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Maryland's Bicycle/Pedestrian coordinator is conspicuous by his silence on this.

by bilbao on Jan 20, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

I'm not familiar with the location cited in the Halsey article, but I don't think it's valid to assume the driver automatically ran a red light if the red hand was flashing. If it's an intersection, the driver may have been making a perfectly legal right turn or left turn on a green light from the other road. As I say, I don't know the location, but it's not legitimate automatically to assume that the pedestrian who walked illegally was in the right. (I'm not assuming the driver was in the right either. I'm responding to what I perceive as an unwarranted assumption by Mr. Alpert.)

by Rich on Jan 20, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

Quick suggestion-

"If more people are walking, the rate of crashes may rise simply because of numbers, but any person's chance of being hit or killed is lower."

Consider something along the lines of:

"If more people are walking, the number of crashes may rise simply because of numbers, but any person's chance of being hit or killed is lower (a lower crash rate)."

[feel free to delete this comment after you've taken it into considertion]

by Bossi on Jan 20, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

@Rich
If the pedestrian sees a flashing 'upraised hand', that means that vehicles making right or left turns are required to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

by Matt Johnson on Jan 20, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Good suggestion, Bossi. I've changed it.

by David Alpert on Jan 20, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

The Post coverage of this today drove me crazy. Pedestrian is, no doubt, a significant factor in these kinds of accidents, but the Post completely ignored driver behavior. I commute on foot every day from one central DC neighborhood to another, and I obey the law and always cross safely, but all of my near-misses have involved drivers on cell phones, or running red lights and stop signs, or failing to yield when making a right on either a green or a red (that is probably the most dangerous of all, actually). But as is typically the case, the Post article was intended for a readership of drivers (even though many District residents do not own cars).

by Lost Left Coaster on Jan 20, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

Correction to my comment, in the second sentence, I meant to say "pedestrian behavior is, no doubt, a significant factor...etc."

by Lost Left Coaster on Jan 20, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

@D.A. Thanks.

by Tina on Jan 20, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

Matt Johnson, your statement is correct if the pedestrian had started to cross when the "man" was displayed (i.e., the white "walk" signal) and the light changed while he was crossing. The flashing red hand (as opposed to the steady red hand) means "Don't start; finish crossing as quickly as possible if you already started." There was a proposal to change this in the next edition of the MUTCD to provide that the flashing hand would allow a pedestrian to start crossing as long as he feels he can reasonably clear the crosswalk before the solid hand comes on, but the change was rejected for a number of different reasons.

Both this blog entry and the quoted material from the Halsey article state that the pedestrians in this case ignored the flashing red hand and started across the road. If that's true, then they were in the wrong. If the driver could have reasonably avoided hitting them, then tort law obligates him to do so, but the key there is "reasonably," and the information currently presented isn't enough to allow for an assessment of that issue.

by Rich on Jan 20, 2011 12:25 pm • linkreport

But wait. The signal was flashing the red hand. That means the traffic light was red. For the driver to hit Cuffy, the driver had to have run the red light.

This is the sort of mistake that could only be made by someone who has never walked anywhere in their life. Kudos to Halsey--and the Post--for another bang-up job.

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 12:25 pm • linkreport

Rich: The light is still red during the red flashing. You're right that the current rule is that you're not supposed to start crossing then, but if the driver is turning, they still have to come to a complete stop, then proceed only if nobody is crossing.

To put it another way, let's say that a senior citizen had been crossing in the other direction slowly. They had started crossing while the signal was showing the white stick figure, and then it changed to the hand while they were crossing, and they were about to get to the other side. Would this driver have stopped in this case?

by David Alpert on Jan 20, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

If the Halsey article was correct, and the teens were struck while the red hand was flashing, then either the driver of the SUV was blowing through the red light heading west to east on Landover road and turning left onto Landover Road from Dodge Park road and failed to check that the crosswalk was clear.

The likeliest case in that scenario is that the SUV was gunning it through the intersection as the light turned yellow so as not to be caught by the changing light--just as the teens were:

http://goo.gl/maps/rluj

It's possible that the light changed while the teens were in the crosswalk, and the traffic on Landover accelerated very quickly and hit them, but that seems pretty unlikely.

The idea that the kids were completely at fault because they ran to make the light on a flashing "Don't Walk" while the driver bears no responsibility for hauling ass through a crosswalk as the light changed from yellow to red is a pretty stark indicator of our prejudices though.

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport

@David / @Rich,

If you check the link, you'll see that the only plausible scenario is that the SUV driver was turning *left* onto Landover Road eastbound. Since the kids entered the crosswalk while the "red hand" was blinking, there's a very good chance the driver of the SUV was trying to "beat the light" through the intersection. It was dark, the kids were running off to the driver's left, and the driver was accelerating to make the light.

You could probably stand there for 4 hours and see this scenario play out a dozen times.

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

Mr. Alpert, my point was--and as I said, I'm not familiar with the intersection--how do you know the light was red? If it's a mid-block crosswalk, then yes, you're absolutely right that it would have been red and I concede the point. I thought I was pretty careful in my first comment to say that I don't know the location, and I noted that IF the light is at a regular intersection where there are two streets, then the light for traffic on the street the kids were crossing would have been red, but the light for traffic on the other street would not have been--it would have been green (assuming it's not like the DC Barnes Dance intersection, which I think is a safe assumption).

In other words, pedestrian wants to use crosswalk running parallel to street with green light. Traffic on street he is crossing has red light. Traffic on other street still has green, and the flashing red hand comes on to indicate that it's the time for those drivers to be allowed to complete their turns.

If you can provide further information about the location in question that shows it was not a spot where the driver would have had a green light, then I'd agree with you that the driver was in the wrong. But if the driver had a green light and turned legally without slowing down (and he is not required to do so) only to find that someone ran out in front of him against, then I wouldn't be too sympathetic to the pedestrian unless the driver was going obscenely fast.

by Rich on Jan 20, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

On the topic of the Post in general (from Wonkette):

America’s strangest joke of a newspaper is the Washington Post, an Onion-style bland suburban daily that seems to shrink deeper into itself each morning. With a news section full of utterly random paragraph-sized chunks from yesterday’s washingtonpost.com and a bizarre op-ed section featuring press releases submitted by the offices of politicians and the confused yammerings of senile embarrassments like Richard Cohen, the paper appears to be nothing less than an elaborate satire of Washington’s dull insularity and tunnel vision. But, according to accountants, it’s actually a very real cash drain on the Kaplan for-profit education scam company that owns the WaPo.

(http://wonkette.com/435664/washington-post-newsroom-upset-because-black-lady-with-boobs-hosts-wapo-webcast)

Yep, that about sums it up.

--oboe
[Lifelong DC resident; Post subscriber until about 2001]

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Rich:
No. That's not quite true. You do a good job describing the intersection dynamics. However, drivers are not "allowed" to complete their turns unless the crosswalk is clear, period.

And even if there was time in the cycle specifically allocated for drivers to make turns without pedestrians present it would be during the solid upraised hand, not the flashing upraised hand.

by Matt Johnson on Jan 20, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

[T]he flashing red hand comes on to indicate that it's the time for those drivers to be allowed to complete their turns.

Yes, but is this correct?

As David pointed out, in the strictest possible interpretation, these kids should not have entered the crosswalk when the red hand was flashing. If they were elderly or disabled, or just walking slowly, they could easily have entered the crosswalk when the signal was white and not successfully reached the other side while the red hand began flashing.

That's why it's incorrect to make the leap to say that a flashing red-hand is a signal that "it's the time for those drivers to be allowed to complete their turns." In fact, it's that kind of assumption that leads to these kind of deaths.

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

"Yet there's absolutely no mention of this fact in Halsey's article. Who's really at fault: a teenager who hurries to get across the road before the light changes, but while cross traffic has still got the red light, or the driver who hits him despite the red light?"

You left out one possibility for who is at fault. Remember, it was dark. So the driver would have trouble seeing the teenager. That doesn't absolve the driver, but the darkness makes accidents more likely. Why was it dark (and therefore less safe?) Who is responsible for making Maryland intersections in general safe?

by Mike Toreno on Jan 20, 2011 12:55 pm • linkreport

Matt Johnson, you're completely misunderstanding my point. The flashing red hand means "Don't start." That means the pedestrian who enters the crosswalk is in the wrong. The driver is entitled to expect that the way is clear. It doesn't automatically mean it's OK to mow down pedestrians, of course, but there is an extremely important aspect relating to civil liability if the pedestrian sues: If the driver could not reasonably avoid hitting the pedestrian who entered the crosswalk illegally (whether because of bad lighting, because the pedestrian ran out at the last second when it was too late to stop, whatever), then the driver isn't liable under Maryland law because the pedestrian was "contributorily negligent." Maryland is one of a couple of states where the injured party's own negligence will prevent him from recovering from the other party.

What you seem to be saying is, "Damn the sign, the pedestrian is free to walk if he wants and the driver has to stop." If the hand is flashing and the pedestrian hasn't started yet, you're wrong (though, as I said, I am neither encouraging nor excusing indiscriminate running-down of people who walk illegally, much as I might sometimes want to do that to a fatty who waddles out one second before the light turns).

In other words, I think we're talking about two distinct propositions.

by Rich on Jan 20, 2011 12:55 pm • linkreport

BTW, let me clarify something in my other comments: I was specifically relying on the given information that these kids entered the crosswalk after the light started flashing. My comments were based on that information. That distinguishes what I was saying from oboe's situation where someone starts crossing but is still there when the light starts flashing. I absolutely agree that in the latter situation the pedestrian has to be given the right to finish crossing even if the driver has to stop for him. But my understanding of the facts presented in this particular case is that that wasn't the situation here.

Hope that clarifies a bit.

by Rich on Jan 20, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

Rich is correct that if a pedestrian sees a flashing red hand, he should not start to cross, and to do so is illegal.

But by the same token, if a driver sees a yellow light, he is supposed to stop if its safe and possible to do so. If it is not safe and possible, he should continue through the intersection. To do anything else (speed through it, go through when you could stop, etc.) is illegal.

Once police strictly and reliably enforce that, along with strict speed limits, turn signals (even when changing lanes), complete stops at stop signs, never turning on red when a pedestrian is present and every other traffic law, then I could put some blame on the pedestrian for crossing on a flashing hand.

by Tim on Jan 20, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

(@Rich, might people be more willing to consider your argument if you refrained from gratuitous name-calling?)

by Miriam on Jan 20, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

@Rich:
You're misunderstanding me, too.

If a pedestrian is in the crosswalk, the driver is required to yield. The flashing upraised hand does not mean that the way should be clear. It's called the "clearance" phase for a reason. It's to give time for pedestrians already within the crosswalk to clear it.

While it appears these teenagers entered the crosswalk in the clearance phase (which, as you point, out is illegal), someone who entered lawfully could still be in the crosswalk.

A flashing upraised hand, therefore, does not indicate that "the way is clear". Drivers in Maryland are not permitted to enter the crosswalk when a pedestrian is in it.

A study (I'll see if I can find it) was conducted a few years ago to test the effectiveness of pedestrian countdown timers.

What it discovered was that the timers actually increased the number of pedestrians who entered the crosswalk during the clearance/'flashing' phase. But it decreased the number of pedestrians who were still in the crosswalk when the solid upraised hand came on.

So what can we glean from that?

When given adequate information, pedestrians will make better decisions. The flashing upraised hand is designed so that it gives enough time for the slowest pedestrians to cross. An able-bodied teen would still have plenty time to cross if he or she entered just as the flashing hand came on.

They look and say, oh, the timer says I have 25 seconds to cross, and I know it only takes me 15-20.

Or, alternatively, they say, oh, the timer says 3 seconds; there's no way I can make it.

The teens crossing Landover Road would likely have had no indication about how long they had to cross safely. And given suburban signal timing, they might have been standing on a narrow, dark sidewalk for 3 minutes. They made a poor judgment, and it cost a young person his life.

But the person responsible for pedestrian safety should at least understand that the design of our roadways forces people to decide between often-severe inconvenience and taking a risk. And if he can't figure out that roadway design plays a factor, he might need to find a new line of work.

by Matt Johnson on Jan 20, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

It would be nice if MPD enforced traffic laws in the District. K Street is a hot mess during rush-hour. Pedestrians jay-walk; commuters make left-hand while crossing over double-yellow lines and 2 lanes of traffic; cars constantly block the box and sit idle inside crosswalks; bicyclists do not yield at stop signs and red lights.

Everyone is at fault.

MPD needs officers to be out on the street, as opposed to in their cruisers, ticketing ALL violators.

by Rayful Edmond on Jan 20, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

*left-hand turns

by Rayful Edmond on Jan 20, 2011 1:31 pm • linkreport

Rich,

You betrayed your bias with this line:

The driver is entitled to expect...
This is precisely the bias which David is railing against in this article. No one is suggesting that the driver is solely to blame for this terrible incident, but instead asking officials, the press, and the general public to stop talking about pedestrian issues like they're just little things that get in the way of drivers and their cars getting somewhere.

Whether or not the kids entered the crosswalk during the flashing hand -- which, by the way, is never confirmed by anyone in particular, did the driver say they did? -- is irrelevant. The fact is the driver should have been looking for pedestrians in the crosswalk and would have been required to yield to them. This driver was obviously driving fast enough to kill someone, leading me to believe he/she wasn't watching for any peds, legally crossing or not.

by Erik Weber on Jan 20, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

Matt Johnson, you're completely misunderstanding my point. The flashing red hand means "Don't start." That means the pedestrian who enters the crosswalk is in the wrong. The driver is entitled to expect that the way is clear.

Yes, this is what I was trying to get across. It makes no sense to say that a driver is entitled to expect that the crosswalk is clear in the case where teens entered the crosswalk during the "clearance phase", but the driver is not entitled to expect the crosswalk is clear in the case where an elderly person entered the crosswalk during the "walk phase" but has not yet cleared the intersection.

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

This week, I nearly got hit crossing 20th Street NW at P by a car turning left even though I had the white hand.

Then I was nearly hit crossing Massachusetts Ave at 21st St when I had a white hand by a car that totally ignored the red light.

No, it's always the pedestrian's fault.

PS The other problem with the red flashing hand. At a few intersections in DC, it turns from white to red literally 3 seconds in. I'm thinking of I and 15th NW as a prime example. It's white long enough to step off the curb. And cars treat the red flashing hand as meaning they have the right to turn onto I whether or not there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk.

by lou on Jan 20, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

Oboe's interpretation of traffic is worth of Abelard. But remember what happened to him....

I think MJohnson brings up an interesting point with the countdown timers, which are a great innovation. However, there is a caveat: those timers are mostly being installed in urban areas. Urban areas are safer than suburban roads for pedestrians.

Pedestrian behavior is indeed a real problem. Look what Arlington had to do with Seven Corners to stop mexicans from running across the road. Now there is a fence to stop and force people to take the bridge. Fetishing "Complete Streets" is not helpful in big box country.*

And the uptick in deaths? Probably nothing more than people driving as the economy recovers a bit and gas prices remained stable, if high.

* Things like the countdown timers or stop buttons which give pedestrians more choice and control are not a bad thing in these cases. More crosswalks -- maybe not.

by charlie on Jan 20, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

Look what Arlington had to do with Seven Corners to stop mexicans from running across the road.

You've put your finger on it here, charlie. The Guatemalans and Salvadorians do a pretty good job of playing by the rules. But those dueced Mexicans! It seems like we've always gotta build a fence!

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

@oboe:
+1

by Matt Johnson on Jan 20, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

Here's a question I have - is entering the intersection during the "clearance interval" ACTUALLY illegal? Because I haven't seen any evidence that it is. How could it be? As multiple people have said, people take different amounts of time to cross so some people would be able to easily make the light if they enter during the flashing hand.

But it seriously shows our bias when we think that a car should just be able to blow through a left turn at a rate of speed where you can kill someone. And yet it's accepted as just a part of daily driving behavior. People do fast left turns to avoid oncoming traffic, to turn left at the end of a light cycle, etc. And yet somehow it's accepted as a fact that the people who should be making concessions in this equation are the people crossing the street who have no protection whatsoever, instead of the people driving 3000lb vehicles.

by MLD on Jan 20, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

The driver is supposed to be looking at the traffic signal (red light) and at the road, not at the pedestrian signal. If a driver even knows what the color of the pedestrian signal is, and hits a pedestrian, the driver has been looking in the wrong place and is at fault for failure to keep eyes on the road.

by Ben Ross on Jan 20, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

Everytime a story about a pedestrian/cyclist getting hit comes up the comments tend to solely focus on the particulars on a given situation to try and determine who was at fault. Can we steer the discussion to the more substantive than nitpicking the specifics, which we don't have thus wasting time trying to come up with any contingency to fit our view? I think it then becomes fruitless to try and come up with more and more circumstances that may or may not have arose.
Besides correcting mistakes like Halsey's and clarifying existing law I think its mainly fruitless to focus on I'd much rather read responses to the fact that the GHSA seems to not even recognize that pedestrians should have some sort of expectation of safety even if the route they're walking along or try to cross is busy? Why does the fact that a road is busy most of the time mean that pedestrian safety becomes less important?

by Canaan on Jan 20, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

@MLD:
Yes.

Maryland Code, Transportation Chapter, Title 21 - Vehicle Rules of the Road:

§ 21-203. Pedestrian control signals.
(c) Dont walk.- A pedestrian may not start to cross the roadway in the direction of a "dont walk" or "upraised hand" signal.
(d) Wait signal - Beginning crossing prohibited.- A pedestrian may not start to cross the roadway in the direction of a "wait signal".

§ 21-202. Traffic lights with steady indication.
(2) These lights apply to drivers and pedestrians as provided in this section.
(b) Green indication.- Vehicular traffic facing a circular green signal may proceed straight through or, unless a sign at the place prohibits the turn, turn right or left.
(c) Yielding right-of-way to vehicles or pedestrians within intersections or crosswalks.- Vehicular traffic described under subsection (b) of this section, including any vehicle turning right or left, shall yield the right-of-way to any other vehicle and any pedestrian lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk when the signal is shown.

[Emphasis mine]

by Matt Johnson on Jan 20, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

Re: headline

"Maryland road safety head, Post's Halsey blame pedestrians and even Michelle Obama for fatalities"

I know what you're trying to say here, but it makes it sounds like Halsey's story also blames Michelle Obama, but that's not in there.

by Mike B on Jan 20, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

Erik Weber, you accuse me of "bias" because I said that the driver is entitled to expect certain behavior. OK, I should have been more precise in my wording: The driver is not entitled to "expect" the crosswalk to be clear when the red hand is flashing because it is certainly possible that a pedestrian could already be there who had entered legally. Fair point. Perhaps I should have said "If the driver sees a clear crosswalk and a flashing hand, he's entitled to expect that further pedestrians will not enter the crosswalk."

I know many of the people here automatically assume that anyone who suggests that the driver might be in the right must be evil somehow. That's one reason why this blog has the reputation of being anti-car. I think your effort to paint me with the "evil car supporter" brush isn't quite valid because, as I said, I was addressing the circumstances of this case based on the facts I know about--or, put differently, there was no reason to comment on a what a pedestrian is entitled to expect because it wasn't an issue. A pedestrian is entitled to expect a driver to stop at a red light. A pedestrian is entitled to expect that a driver in a left-turn-only lane will turn left (come to think of it, other drivers are entitled to expect that too). A pedestrian in an uncontrolled crosswalk is entitled to expect a driver to yield to him, provided the pedestrian ensures that the driver can reasonably stop before stepping out (you have to respect the laws of physics, so if the driver is inches from the crosswalk, it's not right to step in front of him). A pedestrian on the sidewalk in front of my house is entitled to assume I'll look both ways when I back out of my garage in the car. You know, those are all some valid examples, and there are many others I could list....and none of them were relevant here. By the same token, surely you agree that drivers have some reasonable expectations. Would you disagree if I said that when I drive on I-395 in Virginia I think it is reasonable not to see a pedestrian attempting to run across the highway? (I cite that as an example because I saw a guy try it near Shirlington once. He got hit and was killed. Thankfully, I did NOT see that happen--but I didn't feel particularly sorry for him because I viewed it as Darwin in action.)

I think our streets and sidewalks work better when all users, regardless of mode of transportation, try to cooperate and recognize when it's time to stop and when it's time to go. Let me use crossing against the light as an example. Sure, we all know there are times when it's not a problem. We all also know that many people cross illegally and force drivers who have a green light to stop. I think that's counterproductive because it contributes to driver-pedestrian animosity. You might get across sooner that time, but it just causes driver frustration to build to the point where, when it happens over and over again, the driver then doesn't want to yield when he has to do so. That, in turn, makes the pedestrian angry (justifiably), and when the pedestrian keeps having to deal with drivers who don't yield when it's time to walk, the frustration builds up and he's then more likely to walk illegally. See, I think it's a vicious cycle and that neither the drivers nor the pedestrians benefit from EITHER group's tendency to ignore the rules.

(As an aside, I ran some business-related errands in my car about half an hour ago. I thought about taking my bike, given that it's a fairly pleasant afternoon, but I chose not to do so because I can claim the miles driven as a tax deduction but I can't do the same for biking.)

by Rich on Jan 20, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

"Would you disagree if I said that when I drive on I-395 in Virginia I think it is reasonable not to see a pedestrian attempting to run across the highway?"

The sentence quoted above is missing a word. I meant to say "reasonable not to EXPECT TO SEE a pedestrian." The word "expect" changes the meaning of that sentence big-time!

by Rich on Jan 20, 2011 3:28 pm • linkreport

FWIW, the Pedestrian Countdown signals are now mandatory in the MUTCD and over the next 10 years, all current signals will be converted.

And yes, this thread does illustrate the sense of entitlement by drivers.

The point made by someone about suburban roads is something I touched on in a blog entry of my own. I think the increase is due to a change in the land use context along many suburban arterials from "corridors" to "centers." The centers have more pedestrian activity, but the posted speed limits and design treatments haven't been changed to better reflect the new land use context.

So as pedestrian activity increases, while road conditions stay the same, it makes sense that vehicle-pedestrian accidents increase.

by Richard Layman on Jan 20, 2011 4:26 pm • linkreport

Richard hits the nail on the head here. And it's *not* about the demonization of drivers. The culprit is the failure of road design to keep up with changing usage.

Granted, since "everyone" drives out there in the exurbs, the pressure to avoid making the sorts of changes that are required is enormous. After all, you might add 2 minutes to someone's commute.

by oboe on Jan 20, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

The notion that a pedestrian SHOULD be at fault for not playing the "Mother May I" game correctly and started to cross when old ladies may not make the crossing in time is just another anti-pedestrian bias.

Since I lived in Maryland I have watched our pedestrian fatality ranking go from 20 to the 4th highest fatality rate in the Nation.

Lastly I am horrified that Maryland's pedestrian safety campaign resembles an article from the Onion:

http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=20100813104440316

by Barry Childress on Jan 20, 2011 5:10 pm • linkreport

Barry, you make me regret that I don't regularly read The Onion.

by Richard Layman on Jan 20, 2011 5:39 pm • linkreport

I think the increase is due to a change in the land use context along many suburban arterials from "corridors" to "centers."

RL +1

I can only hope people start thinking in the context of "centers" more. It will be key for success at areas like White Flint. Are there more inane Montgomery County (car) traffic tests upcoming?

by EJ on Jan 20, 2011 8:04 pm • linkreport

In fact, in an entry the other day on the top transpo stories in the region for 2010, I included two images of Rockville Pike, a photo of the current conditions, and a rendering from the White Flint Partnership.

- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/2960981485/
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/2962315030/in/photostream/

by Richard Layman on Jan 20, 2011 10:20 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, the washington post is profitable again, not even counting kaplan. They will also add a new section this year.

@charlie, pedestrian countdowns are now mandatory. While cities are allowed to exhaust their existing supply of countdowns (for example, if they bulk purchased for all future replacements), all new purchases must have a timer. Old ones do not have to be replaced, they can live out their life (just like the ancient walk/don't walk ones that still exist)

@Maryland. The law making it illegal for a pedestrian to begin to cross when the light is flashing is yet another anti-pedestrian bias. The timing of the light is for the lowest common denominator (granny with a walker) and all pedestrians should not be forced to wait.

by JJJJJ on Jan 20, 2011 11:51 pm • linkreport

I would like to point out Maryland law that I never see quoted by police or the news:
§ 21-504. Drivers to exercise due care.
(a) In general.- Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, the driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian.

My letter: http://www.baltimorespokes.org/comment.php?mode=view&cid=1055

by Barry Childress on Jan 21, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

I wrote about this same topic last month on the Mary Black Foundation (Spartanburg, SC) blog: http://www.maryblackfoundation.org/uncategorized/traffic-safety-is-a-matter-of-design

by Ned Barrett on Jan 24, 2011 9:11 am • linkreport

Breathtaking ignorance. Breathtaking lack of grasp.
Who put these clowns in charge of transportation??

by Cindy on Jan 26, 2011 8:18 pm • linkreport

It's dangerous to base assumptions of a person's - or their whole state's - professional competence on isolated quotes. I'm a professional transportation planner who has lived in both Maryland and North Carolina and can tell you first hand that while Maryland roads have a long way to go before they are hospitable to pedestrians, the overall design standards, policies, and most importantly infrastructure on the ground in Maryland are far superior to North Carolina's. Even if a few individuals within NCDOT are willing to admit that their pedestrian infrastructure sucks, that's a far cry from doing away with the policies that leave them continuing to build and expand roads for cars without regard for pedestrians.

by Darlene on Mar 4, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

Cell phone tickets are unconstitutional, a violation of personal space, and this is morally tantamount to punishing people using horseless buggies.

The fact that police can pull over tax paying citizens in 2012 for talking on their phone is a complete violations of personal space, violates personal rights, and is a sad example of how the police and government have abilities to violate citizens at any moment in the day. Maybe it's not the polices fault, but the fact they choose to enforce this petty law over focusing energies on real malignant crimes shows how backwards their priories are, and it's a sad day.

The fact the law makers expect 350 million Americans to run out and purchase wear-in ear widgets so they can talk "hands free" on their phones is an unfair and unrealistic expectation, and most people don't have the money, time, or tech savvy to do this.

Wake up fellow citizens, on top of surrendering 30% of your pay checks to go towards the military war complex, and a list of government bailouts, you will now have to pay $180 for talking on your phone in your private vehicle. To top off the fact you are also getting ripped off from the telecommunications monopoly charging you for data.

Fight back and tell the cops this is an unwarranted form of taxation and manipulation, and needs to be stopped.

by Troy Davis on Nov 7, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

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