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Can Better Urban Planning Reduce Pedestrian and Bicycle Accidents?

 

Increasingly, more and more people are choosing to walk, bike, or take public transpiration, whether for work or pleasure. Community leaders often encourage these activities, which can improve the health of both individuals and the environment. 

However, walking or biking can also put people at risk for injury or even death due to a bicycle accident or pedestrian crash. To protect these vulnerable populations, cities are seeking and implementing better urban planning solutions.

The Alarming Statistics on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accidents

Pedestrian and bicycle accidents make up a large portion of our nation’s traffic-related fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), pedestrian and bicycle fatalities increased by 25 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2015; in 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles.

In addition, the NHTSA reports that, as of 2013, pedestrian deaths accounted for 45% of all traffic-related fatalities in Washington D.C., 23% of traffic-related fatalities in Maryland, and 10% of traffic-related fatalities Virginia. The majority of these fatalities occur in urban areas where non-motorized and motorized vehicles cross paths — sometimes with tragic results.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that 73% of pedestrian deaths and 69% of bicyclists deaths occur in cities. People in lower-class urban communities are at especially high risk for these types of crashes. Often, in these communities, citizens depend on public transportation, but the sidewalks and transit stops they need are poorly maintained.

Ultimately, the bigger the city, the greater the risk of accident or injury. The DOT reports that compared to rural areas, the rate of pedestrian crashes per number of residents is four times as high in large urban areas, and twice as high in small or midsize urban areas.

Better Urban Planning: Mayors’ Challenge

Faced with these alarming statistics, the Department of Transportation developed the Mayors’ Challenge for cities nationwide (transportation.gov/mayors-challenge), which identifies seven ways better urban planning can make sidewalks and streets safer. While the Mayor’s Challenge aims to create safer traveling environments for all citizens, many of the tasks focus specifically on improving conditions for and ensuring the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. 

Challenge 1: Complete Streets

The Complete Streets challenge asks mayors and urban planners to “prioritize and integrate all anticipated road users into every transportation project.” To better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, the DOT encourages city leaders to work with urban planners to install separated two-way bike lanes, extend sidewalks, install traffic circles, and consider other measures to ensure pedestrians and cyclists can travel safely.

Challenge 2: Fix Barriers

Challenge two asks mayors and urban planners to identify barriers to pedestrian and cyclist safety, such as unsafe intersections or overly-congested spaces. To alleviate this congestion, urban planners implement “road diets.” Road diets lessen motor vehicle traffic and provide pedestrians and bicyclists with more space, thereby reducing the chance for accident and injury. For instance, a road diet might reduce traffic lanes from four to two, while expanding designated areas for non-motorized vehicles.

Challenge 3: Gather Data

The more urban planners know about when and where pedestrian-on-vehicle accidents occur, the better equipped they will be to meet safety challenges. Challenge 3 asks mayors to implement innovative data collection techniques to better understand and respond to the safety needs of their citizens.

Recently, city planners began using traffic counters to assess high-traffic pedestrian and bicycle areas, determine which areas are best-suited for non-motorized vehicle travel, and identify sidewalks and roads in need of repair. Citizens are an important part of these assessments; through online interactive maps and apps, community members can report potholes, missing bike lanes, and other obstacles that make travel unsafe. 

Challenge 4: Design Right

The fourth challenge asks mayors to consider and correct flaws in planning and design. Examples of redesign efforts include shortening the distance pedestrians and bicyclists travel when crossing roads, incorporating more street lighting to better illuminate pedestrians, establishing bike traffic signals at busy intersections, and creating continuous bikeway networks between residential areas and city centers.

Seemingly small design features can have a big impact. Installing flexible posts and using brightly colored paint, for example, can help delineate the space between motorized and non-motorized vehicles and improve safety as a result.

Challenge 5: Create Networks

Challenge five is specifically aimed at creating safe sidewalks and bikeways for pedestrians and bicyclists. Along with creating or expanding bike share programs, initiatives include widening sidewalks, converting existing bike lanes to separated bike lanes, and improving accessibility for people protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Communities have also undertaken resurfacing projects to repair sidewalks and to install or improve bus stops and bike parking. These projects have proven effective in places like Fairfax County, Va., which saw a decrease in non-motorized vehicle crashes after completing several resurfacing projects.

Challenge 6: Improve Laws

The sixth challenge encourages community leaders to advance new legislation and improve current legislation to protect pedestrians and bicyclists. Oftentimes, this means enforcing lower speed limits in pedestrian-heavy areas. According to The Economist, 80% of pedestrians struck by a vehicle travelling at 40 mph will die from their injuries, but lowering the speed limit drastically reduces the odds that a given pedestrian accident will end in fatality.

In addition to lowering speed limits, community leaders are fighting for tougher distracted driving laws and just compensation for pedestrians or bicyclists injured in traffic accidents, and law enforcement officials are targeting drivers who violate safe passing distance laws that require them to leave three feet between their vehicles and bicycles. Cities are also piloting safe vehicle initiatives, which require large city trucks to be equipped with enhanced mirrors that make pedestrians more visible and side-guards that prevent pedestrians from falling under vehicles.

Challenge 7: Educate and Enforce

The final activity promotes education, outreach, and enforcement. Communities responding to this challenge coordinate events such as walk-to-school days and sponsor giveaways for bicycle lights and helmets. They also raise awareness by identifying high-risk traffic areas and helping cyclists find safe, suitable travel routes. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials partner with pedestrian and cycle advocacy groups to create PSAs and to teach school age children safe practices.

Making Strides

Many communities in Maryland and Virginia have responded to the call for better urban development. In our area, Washington D.C. is leading the charge. The DOT recognized Washington D.C. with an Overall Success Award and an award for meeting Challenge 3: Gathering Data. The DOT reports that, during the challenge, D.C. officials made data more accessible, and they sponsored a “hackathon” (a design event where people collaborate to solve problems) to engage residents in safety analysis.

Through the hackathon, residents developed apps and analyzed five years’ worth of crash data. Residents also continue to actively contribute to data collection by using newly-developed, interactive safety maps to pinpoint dangerous travel areas. D.C. is committed to achieving zero traffic-related deaths by 2024—a goal that might seem ambitious, but that communities can only achieve if they envision and begin taking practical, tangible steps to realize it.

Perry Charnoff, PLLC: Advocates for Injured Cyclists and Pedestrians

Many of these urban planning initiatives, while impressive, are still in the early stages of development. In the meantime, pedestrians and bicyclists remain at risk for accident and injury, and there will always be tragic accidents due to negligent behavior, even with ideal design and planning in place for our communities.

If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of an accident in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington D.C., contact the dedicated legal team at Perry Charnoff. Our attorneys believe in protecting the rights of all citizens and won’t hesitate to fight for justice in court on your behalf.

To schedule a free consultation, please call our office at (703) 291-6650 or fill out our convenient online contact form and let us reach out to you.

References

Pedestrian and bicycle crash statistics. (n.d.). Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Retrieved from http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/data/factsheet_crash.cfm

Traffic safety facts. (2015, February). NHTSA.gov. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812124

Urban planning: Streetwise. (2015, September 5). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/international/21663219-cities-are-starting-put-pedestrians-and-cyclists-motorists-makes-them

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2014, September). Safer people, safer streets: Summary of U.S. Department of Transportation action plan to increase walking and biking and reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. (2014, September). Washington, D.C.: U.S Department of Transportation. Retrieved from

https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/safer_people_safer_streets_summary_doc_acc_v1-11-9.pdf

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2016, September 22). “Success Stories from the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets.” Transportation.gov. Retrieved from https://www.transportation.gov/mayors-challenge