Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pedestrian Thoughts About Dangerous Streets

I started my morning by reading bike/pedestrian activist Andy Singer's excellent piece about the War on Pedestrians, which reminded me of a case I wrote about earlier. I realized I didn't know what had happened and wanted to follow up.

To summarize, Raquel Nelson, mother of three from Marietta, Georgia, was crossing a four-lane divided street (not a highway) with her three young kids and several other adults who had gotten off a city bus near her apartment building. There is no crosswalk or light at the intersection by the bus stop; the nearest one is 3/10 of a mile away. Then, of course, you would have to walk 3/10 of a mile back to get to the apartment building. After crossing safely to the median with the group, her 4-year-old ran out into the traffic lanes when some of the other adults did. The child was hit by a drunk driver and later died. The driver fled the scene, was caught, and later was convicted. He served six months.

The state of Georgia responded by charging Nelson with vehicular manslaughter. That's where the case was at the last time I wrote about it in 2011.

Here's what has happened over the last several years as the case proceeded (quoting
In July 2011, she was convicted of all three misdemeanors: second-degree homicide by a vehicle, crossing roadway elsewhere than a crosswalk and reckless conduct.

Nelson received a sentence of one year probation and 40 hours of community service, with the option of a retrial. She chose that retrial, but before it was scheduled to begin Thursday, two of the charges were dropped. She pleaded no contest to the jaywalking charge and paid a $200 fine, Steve Sadow, Nelson’s attorney confirmed to HLN.

After not setting foot in jail over this incident, she had faced up to two years behind bars. The driver, who initially fled the scene, was out of prison in six months after being sentenced to five years for the hit and run. He remains on probation for the rest of his sentence.
The news post then asked readers what they would have done in Nelson's shoes. Would they have crossed at the intersection or gone to the crosswalk?

Most responders sympathized with Nelson, but there were several trolls (shockingly, all appear to be white men) who wrote things like this:
She knowingly put her children in harms way, the driver is the victim.

[In response to a commenter who said the mom must be busy and needed to get across the street in a reasonable amount of time, another guy wrote]: we are all busy. She should have been busy holding her childs hand. We are so "busy" that we are endangering our children? I havent heard that she was so busy or even had a job. I heard she crossed from a bus stop, had groceries and allowed her child to run out into traffic. I never read anything that explained the rest of her days schedule. For all you know she was in a hurry to get home and sit back in front of the tv and ignore the children the rest of the night. [This troll never met an apostrophe he couldn't forget to use.]

If she would have just did what was right, instead of what was easy this never would have happened.
And when one woman asked, "What parent hasn't had a 4 year old escape their grasp and run? Fortunately, it usually doesn't lead to tragedy," one of the trolls responded: "I haven't." To which someone should have responded: "Well, that tells me you never spent much time with your kids in public."

Some of Andy Singer's most cogent points that relate to the trolls' arguments have to do with the way streets and roads are designed so they cue drivers to go faster:
When Bikram Phuyel was hit by a car last Monday, [St. Paul traffic engineer John] Maczko told the Pioneer Press:

The city reviews a streetscape “when incidents happen that are particularly tragic like this one to see if there’s anything that can be done,” . . . But he said he doesn’t think a painted crosswalk at the intersection would have prevented the crash, saying they can give people an illusion of safety. . . . “Everyone needs to be part of the solution,” Maczko said. “Vehicles that are driving around other vehicles need to wonder why that other vehicle is stopped and understand if a car is stopped, it’s stopped for a reason. . . . As pedestrians, when we cross these four-lane roads, we have to cross every lane as an individual roadway.”

Let’s parse this response. Maczko is blaming drivers, who are driving at the design speeds of his roadway and are unaware that an unmarked intersection is a crosswalk that could have pedestrians. He’s blaming the victims themselves, saying “People need to treat crossing a 4-lane road like crossing four individual roadways (which the victim didn’t),” and he’s implying that, “There’s nothing we in engineering could do. Crosswalks wouldn’t have helped.” He fails to suggest anything more radical like signage, pavement markings, traffic signals, HAWK signals [pedestrian activated traffic lights], a pedestrian refuge island or a 4-lane to 3-lane conversion of Rice Street—all things that, individually or in combination, can dramatically reduce both pedestrian and motor vehicle crashes. Put another way, Maczko begins by saying “We all need to do our part,” but ends by implying, “except me. I can’t do anything.”
He also expains the reality that pedestrians have to work a lot harder than cars to travel distances. Therefore, crossings should strongly prioritize pedestrians:
Another line I often hear from Pedestrian War leaders, pundits and supporters is “There’s a traffic signal two blocks away. Why didn’t the victim cross there?” Two blocks on streets like Snelling or Rice can often be as much as a quarter mile. So, if a pedestrian wishes to cross a street to a destination on the other side (like a store, bus-stop or school), that’s a quarter mile walk to the light and a quarter mile walk back down the other side of the street, for a total of a half-mile of extra walking. At an average speed of 3 miles per hour, these leaders are asking pedestrians to spend ten extra minutes and a lot of extra energy every time they want to cross a street – things they would never accept as drivers.
If all of this interests you, you might want to follow up by reading Bill Lindeke's recent post, Four Lane Death Roads Should Be Illegal.


BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Yeah, carry your groceries and hold all your children's hands simultaneously. I've been getting madder and madder about unsafe crossings since seeing my grandkids' three classmates escape an onrushing car by inches.

Daughter Number Three said...

Next week I am supposed to go on a walk along a major thoroughfare adjacent to an elementary school, doing a pedestrian safety audit for the Safe Routes to School campaign. The principal at the school had to remove the crossing guards from the closest/most convenient intersection because it was just too dangerous.