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The Center for Investigative Reporting, the nation’s oldest nonprofit investigative reporting organization, recently completed an exhaustive review of the causes of serious and fatal pedestrian accidents. The group considered both driver and pedestrian behavior, along with road design and other traffic engineering factors, and concluded that both the number and seriousness of pedestrian accidents rose with the speed of traffic and with inconvenient locations for legal crosswalks.

The report focused on the San Francisco Bay Area, and took into account a number of other research studies on what factors contribute to pedestrian accidents. The conclusions could easily be applied here in New Haven or anywhere in the U.S. where similar street design is used.

First, the reporters noted that the speed of traffic is a major factor both in the number of pedestrians hit by cars and in how serious those accidents are. A 2010 study by the London Department for Transport found the risk of pedestrian death is five times greater when traffic is going 40 mph than 30 mph.

Another study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 2011 found that the fatality risk in pedestrian accidents rose from about 10 percent in 23-mph traffic to 90 percent in 58-mph traffic.

Whether pedestrian crosswalks are plentiful and well-marked versus separated by long distances and marked only with paint also plays a role in pedestrian safety. First, on four-lane roads, many traffic planners say that having a crosswalk with no accompanying stop sign or traffic light can actually be more dangerous than not having one at all, because it gives pedestrians a false sense of security. They would actually be safer knowing they’re jaywalking.

If one factor is most important to preventing pedestrian accidents, however, it may be setting up more and better-marked crosswalks so there are no long gaps between crossings. Especially on heavily traveled, high-speed roads with multiple lanes to cross, pedestrians are at grave risk when they try to cross.

Studies show that pedestrians simply won’t make long treks to use legal crosswalks when the bus stop or other destination is more easily reached by crossing the road. The priority given to cars in traffic design often means that bus stops are inconveniently located far from traffic lights, meaning that those who depend most on transit are also more likely to be victims of pedestrian accidents.

Traffic engineering can give us good tools for preventing serious and deadly pedestrian accidents, but it’s vital to remember that, ultimately, it is the responsibility of every driver to watch for pedestrians and bicyclists whether they are in crosswalks or not. These accidents are preventable, so please drive safely.

Source: Center for Investigative Reporting, “Car is king in street design, to detriment of pedestrians,” Zusha Elinson, April 30, 2013