Safety is everything

Pedestrian and work zone safety are brought to our attention this month

Tim Bruns / April 30, 2021 / 3 minute read
Tim Bruns

The past several weeks we have seen an unusual, but welcome, emphasis on pedestrian safety in the news.

At the end of last month, the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report that projected the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate rose 20% in the first six months of 2020. GHSA attributed this spike in pedestrian fatalities to an increase in speeding, distracted and impaired driving, and other dangerous driving behaviors observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The analysis found that from January through June 2020, 2,957 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes—six more than the same period in 2019. When considering a 16.5% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) nationwide, the rate of drivers striking and killing pedestrians jumped to 2.2 deaths per billion VMT, compared to 1.8 deaths the year before.

The statistics on rising pedestrian fatalities prompted the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) to release recommendations for “Developing an Effective Vulnerable Road User (VRU) Program”. ATSSA defines a vulnerable road user as someone walking or traveling by bicycle, scooter, wheelchair, or skates. ATSSA believes the recommendations “will help put VRUs on a more equal footing with vehicle‐based travel, not only in terms of safety, but as a means of effective and efficient travel mode.”

Only a few days after ATSSA’s announcement, the Justice Department moved to intervene in a disability discrimination lawsuit brought against the City of Chicago under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging that the city fails to provide people who are blind, have low vision, or are deaf-blind with equal access to pedestrian signal information at intersections. The proposed suit alleges that the lack of accessible pedestrian signals at over 99% of Chicago’s signalized intersections subjects members of these vulnerable groups to added risks and burdens not faced by sighted pedestrians, including fear of injury or death.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation this week announced the development of a statewide pedestrian action plan for public feedback. The state says that since 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ranked New Mexico in the top four states nationwide with the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population. For four years, New Mexico had the highest rates, including in 2018 with almost four pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population.

The long-awaited White House infrastructure plan—dubbed the American Jobs Plan—was introduced at the end of last month. In terms of safety, the $2 trillion package includes $20 billion to improve road safety for all users, including increases to existing safety programs and a new Safe Streets for All program to fund state and local “vision zero” plans and other improvements to reduce crashes and fatalities, especially for cyclists and pedestrians.

Finally, this week marked the beginning of construction season with National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW). To bring awareness to work zone safety, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) this week released data showing that in 2019, 842 people died in highway work-zone crashes, an 11.2% increase from the previous year—representing the largest percentage increase of highway work zone fatalities since 2006. 

In keeping with the theme of safety, one of this month’s features tackles the subject of smart work zones. Adam Carreon with the Arizona DOT says the smart work zone relies on real-time data and provides ways to process that data to help adjust the conditions of traffic. According to Carreon, the key concept to having an effective smart work zone is timely, reliable data. This, he says, can help the industry achieve its vision of zero work-zone deaths. Read more in the feature “Safer Work Zones through Technology”.

Another feature included this month addresses autonomous vehicle developments. In “The Digital Roadway,” Brian Cronin from the FHWA discusses the agency’s Cooperative Driving Automation Research Program—the goal of which is to pave the way for a connected transportation system. Finally, Katherine Kortum from the Transportation Research Board discusses the developments of microtransit services across the country, even throughout the pandemic, in the feature “A Good Time for Microtransit.” 

Since this is the end of National Work Zone Awareness Week, the team at Traffic & Transit wishes health and safety to those working on our roads, highways, and bridges. And we urge everyone else to slow down and drive safely!

About the Author

Bruns is associate managing editor of Traffic & Transit.

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