Thursday, July 5, 2018

The First Question Is Always WHY?

Why are so many people hit, injured, and killed walking or bicycling on Washington's roads?

By Barb Chamberlain

When we hear about people dying, whether it's one person or a lot of people, the first question is always WHY?

We ask this partly to understand whether it might happen to us, and partly to understand what we need to change so this doesn't happen to us or to others in the future.

When it comes to injuries and deaths of people walking and biking we have a lot of possible “why” questions. Let's take a look at some of the numbers found in our active transportation safety report for 2017 (pdf 5.3 mb) and what you can do to make it more likely that everyone gets where they're headed no matter how they get around.

This post addresses one of the numbers we reported – we'll cover others in future posts.
Creating streets that are accessible for all modes of travel leads to safer trips for everyone.

Why are 62 percent of the serious injuries and deaths occurring on city streets? 
We don't have precise numbers on how many people walk or bike in any given city or town; we do know that of the roadway miles in the state just over 21 percent are city streets. We know people are more likely to use active transportation in more urban areas that offer destinations within a walkable or bikeable distance. In those same places, more people are driving by at any given time. Cities have more human interactions of every kind.

Washington looks like the rest of the U.S. in this regard. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently put out a report on pedestrian deaths noting the rise in frequency and severity of crashes, mostly in urban or suburban areas.

Different street designs can influence different assumptions and behaviors. A bigger, wider street encourages faster speeds, for example, regardless of the posted speed limit. Society collectively has spent decades developing streets that signal to people driving that their interests are the primary focus of the transportation system. Changes to address all modes are coming one street segment at a time. We work with local agencies, providing funding, technical assistance, training and best practice guidance, to address these issues.
It's vital that transportation systems create
opportunities for people to use whatever
mode of travel works for them.

What you can do
  • As a driver, expect people to be walking and biking, stay alert and drive accordingly.
  • Take a look at the safety tips in the post we wrote heading into Daylight Savings Time — the advice applies year-round.*
  • Whether you walk, bike, take transit, drive, or someone else drives you to your destination, report your concern or question. More and more cities are adopting an app, or have a reporting page or contact for this purpose, as noted on this list maintained by Cascade Bicycle Club.
    • Bear in mind that contacting them doesn't mean the agency responsible for that stretch of street or trail can fix or change it immediately. Working on it in the context of a future planned paving project, for example, makes good use of your tax dollars and lets them potentially address multiple questions in one pass rather than tearing up the same street more than once.
    • When you get in touch you can ask additional questions, for example:
      • when they have plans to work in that area;
      • whether they're applying for grants or seeking other funds to change the street;
      • their overall approach to reducing the likelihood of crashes occurring and providing street designs appropriate for all users;
      • whether they have a Complete Streets ordinance in place (which makes them eligible for Transportation Improvement Board grants, by the way);
      • whether the city or county has a safety plan (which our Local Programs Division requires if they want to apply for safety funds);
      • whether they have a Pedestrian/Bicyclist Advisory Committee (maybe they're looking to fill a seat on it and you're interested in serving);
      • what master plans they have for walking and bicycling and when those were last updated;
      • whether their freight route plans address interactions with people walking/biking;
      • whether they use camera enforcement for things like school zone speed limits and red lights;
      • whether they've adopted a Neighborhood Safe Streets ordinance to lower the speed limits on non-arterials to 20 mph; 
    • When you contact an agency you're letting them know someone uses that connection and it matters. If they're one of the cities that operates on a complaint-based prioritizing approach, you just added a point for that spot. (If you're reporting a problem with bicycle detection at traffic signals, state law specifically requires jurisdictions to track these and prioritize updates based on complaints.)
    • Bicyclists can submit a report to one of the crowd-sourced bike incident sites such as BikeMaps or Bikewise. Researchers and some jurisdictions use this information to better understand factors affecting bicycle transportation. 
    • On state highways:
      • Contact the town or city if it's a stretch within city limits; we work closely with our partner agencies on design and operations. 
      • Between towns, look at our list of programmed projects and contact the appropriate team if we already have something in the works.
      • For maintenance needs such as sweeping or vegetation, email us. We'll try to work it into our schedule as time and other priorities allow.
      • Otherwise contact the Region office that has responsibility for that highway
Safe and efficient travel for all modes of transportation is a top priority in street design.

The bottom line
While we report on statistics and will continue to do so, the reality is that in your everyday life, every statistic is 100 percent for the people it affects.

It's 100 percent for the driver who goes home knowing they changed – or ended – someone's life forever.
It's 100 percent for the person who gets hit.
It's 100 percent for every witness, every first responder, every family member or co-worker.
And it's 100 percent better for everyone, every day, if these collisions don't happen.

Traffic Safety Tips
*In case you didn't click over to that blog post on safe transportation habits, here's the short version:

People Driving
  • Stop for people in crosswalks — every intersection is a crosswalk.
  • Put the phone down.
  • Don't drive impaired.
  • Look and then look again before turning.
  • Watch for people walking or biking near senior centers, schools, community centers, and other destinations.
  • Pass at a safe distance.
  • Drive the posted speed limit, or slower if conditions make visibility difficult.
  • Use your lights.
People Walking or Bicycling
  • Walk and bike where you can be most visible and expected.
  • Take care when crossing roads and driveways.
  • Use eye contact and hand signals to communicate.
  • Use lights as required and take advantage of lighted crossings.


Unknown said...

Most cyclists undervalue a quality light for daytime use. It would save a ton of lives if people would invest 100 bucks in a quality bike light, for front and rear.

Joseph Irwin said...

Excellent piece on a challenging topic for sure. I think the "how to avoid" cannot be repeated enough as many drivers (like me) have been doing it so long we sort of go on autopilot behind the wheel sometimes and aren't necessarily being as alert to our surroundings as our surroundings deserve.

I hit a motorcyclist (yes, not a cyclist or a pedestrian) with my car a few years ago, because I wasn't paying greater attention to my surroundings. It was dusk, he was in black on a black motorcycle. He wasn't speeding, but I wasn't looking for him, either. Every one was OK, fortunately, but they aren't always.

This article makes great points, not just for the motorists, but for the cyclists and pedestrians to help everyone see, be seen and be safer. We're all in this together after all.

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