Archive for the ‘Pedestrians’ Category

Whatever Happened to Walking?

Starting today in Slate, I take a four-part look at walking, the “forgotten transportation mode,” in America and elsewhere.

Simply by going out for a walk, I had become a strange being, studied by engineers, inhabiting environments whose physical features are determined by a rulebook-enshrined average 3 foot-per-second walking speed, my rights codified by signs. (Why not just write: “Stop for People”?) On those same signs in Savannah were often attached additional signs, advising drivers not to give to panhandlers (and to call 911 if physically intimidated), subtly equating walking with being exposed to an urban menace—or perhaps being the menace. Having taken all this information in, we would gingerly step into the marked crosswalk, that declaration of rights in paint, and try to gauge whether approaching vehicles would yield. They typically did not. Even in one of America’s most “pedestrian-friendly” cities—a seemingly innocent phrase that itself suddenly seemed strange to me—one was always in danger of being relegated to a footnote.

Which is what walking in America has become: An act dwelling in the margins, an almost hidden narrative running beneath the main vehicular text. Indeed, the semantics of the term pedestrian would be a mere curiosity, but for one fact: America is a country that has forgotten how to walk. Witness, for example, the existence of “Everybody Walk!,” the “Campaign to Get America Walking” (one of a number of such initiatives). While its aims are entirely legitimate, its motives no doubt earnest, the idea that that we, this species that first hoisted itself into the world of bipedalism nearly 4 million years ago—for reasons that are still debated—should now need “walking tips,” have to make “walking plans” or use a “mobile app” to “discover” walking trails near us or build our “walking histories,” strikes me as a world-historical tragedy.

Posted on Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 at 7:19 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Marked Crosswalks and the Raquel Nelson Case

In the by turns tragic and outrageous case of Raquel Nelson, I keep seeing a call for “marked crosswalks” to be installed on Austell Road, near the bus stop where pedestrians naturally want to cross (rather than walk the estimated 2/3 of a mile to the stop).

But I’m unclear what they’re calling for — is it a traffic signal with a marked crosswalk?

Or just a marked crosswalk? Which we intuitively think would be better than nothing — or would it?

From what I’ve read on marked crosswalks, they precisely begin to lose effectiveness on roads with at least four lanes, and volumes of upwards of 30,000 vehicles per day. Not to mention a “posted” speed of 45 mph.

To quote the FHWA:

Thus, installing a marked crosswalk at an already undesirable crossing location (e.g., wide, high-volume street) may increase the chance of a pedestrian crash occurring at such a site if a few at-risk pedestrians are encouraged to cross where other adequate crossing facilities are not provided. This explanation might be evidenced by the many calls to traffic engineers from citizens who state, “Please install a marked crosswalk so that we can cross the dangerous street near our house.” Unfortunately, simply installing a marked crosswalk without other more substantial crossing facilities often does not result in the majority of motorists stopping and yielding to pedestrians, contrary to the expectations of many pedestrians.


P.S. One of the more dismal comments I saw in this case was from anonymous web poster, along the lines of: “Please install a pedestrian bridge and fix this dangerous street!” Sigh.

Posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2011 at 9:48 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Looking for a Foot Note

Any transpo types out there know how to get reasonably approximate data estimations (understanding all the limitations) on walking rates (miles, trips, whatever) per year in the U.S. — the longer the time span, the better? Feel free to email or leave comments, and thanks in advance.

Posted on Friday, July 1st, 2011 at 1:39 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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More Noncompliant Pedestrian Guidance

Apparently, drivers like to watch.

Posted on Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 at 1:11 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Department of Correlation

Sometimes I honestly don’t understand traffic safety engineering. A random bit from something I was reading:

Motor vehicles and pedestrians can coexist on local residential streets on which both motor vehicle speeds and traffic volumes are low and on-street parking is either prohibited or limited. However, even on these streets the provision of sidewalks can be beneficial in encouraging walking, facilitating social interaction and creating play areas.

Am I wrong or does the first sentence miss the obvious inverse correlation between the presence of parked cars on a street and vehicle speeds on that street? (not to mention parked cars serving as a buffer from wayward cars in traffic).

Posted on Thursday, April 7th, 2011 at 11:37 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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In Constant Peril

Reading Bill Bryson’s At Home, a big, genial shaggy dog of a book brimming with turn-to-the-wife-did-you-know-that moments (in other words, absolutely recommended), I came across this interesting traffic note, about the blackouts introduced to Britain at the outbreak of the war:

Drivers had to drive around in almost perfect invisibility—even dashboard lights were not allowed— so they had to guess not only where the road was but at what speed they were moving.

Not since the Middle Ages had Britain been so dark, and the consequences were noisy and profound. To avoid striking the curb or anything parked along it, cars took to straddling the middle white lines, which was fine until they encountered another vehicle doing likewise from the opposite direction. Pedestrians found themselves in constant peril as every sidewalk became an obstacle course of unseen lampposts, trees, and street furniture. Trams, known with respect as the ‘silent peril,’ were especially unnerving. ‘During the first four months of the war,’ Juliet Gardiner relates in Wartime, ‘a total of 4,133 people were killed on Britain’s roads’—a 100 percent increase over the year before. Nearly three-quarters of the victims were pedestrians. Without dropping a single bomb, the Lutwaffe was already killing six hundred people a month, as the British Medical Journal drily observed.

Posted on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 at 1:57 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Fewer Sidewalks, More Pedestrians

As I’m sure most of you know, Google’s NGram Book Viewer provides an invaluable window, via written texts of the last century or so, onto what the culture was collectively thinking. Not surprisingly, there’s much to be gleaned here from an urban or transportation point of view.

Exhibit A is the first word: Pedestrian.

You see that this word, never that popular, essentially held flat, prior to the automobile, when it began to rise. There was a drop-off after World War II, perhaps in response to postwar suburbanization — people were doing less walking. But then it continues to grow year after year, to the present — even as Americans were walking less every year. This is curious on the one hand, but predictable on the other. As people did more driving, and less walking, the notion of what was once a rather common, everyday activity — walking — became a more specialized “mode of transportation,” something to be considered as The Other, something even, dare I say, a bit strange.

For a sense of what was going on as pedestrian became a more common word, let’s turn to Exhibit B: Jaywalking.

Even as fewer people were walking, there was an increased prevalence of the term jaywalking. This reflects the idea, as noted in Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic, which I’ve discussed here often, that people on foot — now “pedestrians” — bore a greater responsibility for their own safety (where the burden had once been on drivers); not to mention that they were considered an obstruction to the smooth flow of vehicular traffic and thus worthy of demonization.

Maybe people were jaywalking more because as, Exhibit C hints at, there were fewer sidewalks in America (that little uplift at the end, however, is an encouraging sign).

And, just for fun, Exhibit D shows another form of built space that was on the rise: Driveways. These are found even in places that don’t have sidewalks.

I’ve been posting other results via Twitter, but would be curious to see your “UrbaNgrams.”

Posted on Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 at 11:22 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Latest Threat On NYC Streets: Pedestrian Refuges

I’m not sure who actually watches local television news at this point in historical time — I’m picturing a bored Circuit City salesman in front of a wall of LCDs — but it’s just as well, based on the drivel they seem to be serving up, via Streetsblog (which does a nice job of dissecting the usual red herrings of emergency response). It’s shocking that a New York City news outlet can be so pedestrian-blind.

Posted on Saturday, November 6th, 2010 at 2:43 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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More Kids Who Won’t Be Walking to School

The reason: a collapsed pedestrian bridge.

I was puzzled by this last sentence:

A new bridge, if they decide to build one, could cost as much as 1-million dollars. Gugel says simply installing a traffic light may not be an option because Kearney Street has been designated a barrier street which means students shouldn’t cross it.

Somehow a “barrier street” doesn’t have the ring of something found in the MUTCD, but I may be wrong; any street, in any case, is a barrier with enough car traffic on it. But certainly street designations can be changed?

[UPDATE: See comment below for how the school defines ‘barrier street.’ The website also notes: “Springfield has a number of streets with an exceptionally high volume of traffic. In order to prevent students from having to cross the busiest street, SPS provides free transportation to students who live less than 1.5 miles from school in areas where they must cross a barrier street.”

This reads like something of a fait accompli: These streets are too busy, large, fast, etc. to allow students to walk, so they must be driven (by parents or the school), thus increasing traffic on those busy roads. But one wonders what the larger planning decisions were vis a vis the school siting and the classification of those roads (and one hopes that school is not separated from residences by an interstate highway!). Surely children could cross with relatively, with a road diet, slower speeds, a HAWK crossing or crossing guard?]

Posted on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 at 8:12 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Logistics of the School Drop-Off

Via a discussion at the NRDC Switchboard about a school in Orange County that does not allow students on foot, I was struck by the school’s amazing “Strike Team” document, pictured above, covering the ins-and-outs of the school drop-off.

Is it just me or does this strike you as a sign of a system that is severely out of balance? (and I’m not talking about a “design” problem)

Posted on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 at 6:23 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Can Multi-Use Paths Be Shared Safely?

I was essentially asked this question recently in reference to a tragic case of a jogger killed by a cyclist in Dallas.

Based on some nastiness I’ve experienced on the Brooklyn Bridge, along the Hudson River — and even hearing stories about how people’s enthusiasm for the NYC DOT’s “Summer Streets” program was dampened by inappropriate speed choice of cyclists through the event — I myself have had doubts over this, and I’m wondering what experiences people have had around the country, what remedies they’ve seen, etc. How’s the sharing going on the new Walkway over the Hudson going, for example?

I know people will answer courtesy, common sense, etc. (as well as not listening to loud music w/ear buds while cycling/running), but are there engineering/design strategies that have been used, particularly at crossings and the like? Should fast-moving cyclists (I don’t know the velocity involved in Dallas) simply stick to the road, even when it’s a less than desirable situation?

This is not to say that the real source of pedestrian or cyclist danger is on multi-use paths, and some of the failings of multi-use paths is that they’re simply too small — the majority of room having been given over to the car. But just wondering about ideas.

Posted on Friday, October 22nd, 2010 at 11:22 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Desire Path Crosswalk

An interesting prototype design via the PFSK Conference for an “ergonomic” crosswalk that takes into account pedestrians’ natural inclinations to want to shorten the distance it takes them to cross the street (as someone once told me, ‘pedestrians are natural Pythagoreans’). I can foresee a problem with cars, who already stray into the crosswalk, having a bit of a problem lining up. And while I like the red/yellow LED light concept in theory, does it just lessen our tendency to look at the actual environment for safety cues?

Posted on Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 at 12:04 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Accidental Pedestrian SatNav Market

A curious bit from the Times:

Nokia recently discovered the market for pedestrian navigation by chance when it found out that of the 1.4m people who downloaded its car-oriented Ovi Maps app to their smartphones, half of them said they were actually using the maps for walking. The Finnish company has since started to invest heavily in boosting the resolution of its maps to cater for people on foot.

Posted on Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 at 7:29 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)

The first thing that jumps out in this piece is the identification of the victim as “homeless.” A subtle detail, or some kind of implied pejorative — hmm, maybe he was one of those crazy guys you see wandering willy-nilly across the street, and perhaps he was asking for it. Can you imagine the headline: McMansion Owner Struck and Killed by Car in Santa Barbara?

The victim had already been struck by a car before — the driver was cited with failure to yield — but the circumstances here beggar belief:

Castillo, according to McCaffrey, told investigators that he thought the man would clear the intersection before he drove through, but wound up striking the victim with the right front of his car. The victim was reportedly swept up onto the hood of the vehicle before falling to the pavement.

Yes, it’s always a good idea, when approaching an elderly pedestrian, to continue at speed in a multi-ton vehicle towards someone crossing in a crosswalk, owing to your own faith in your driving abilities and your estimation of their walking speed. There’s certainly nothing that can go wrong there, unless, oops, you have an “accident.”

Posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2010 at 9:21 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Holy Failure to Yield!

Geez, it seems drivers won’t even stop to let the Lord Jesus Christ cross the street.

(thanks David)

Posted on Monday, May 10th, 2010 at 1:59 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Yield, Schmield

When I first glanced at the headline, “GPD tracks percent of cars yielding to pedestrians,” I thought, in my jet-lagged haze, wow, here’s a study comparing GDP rates to pedestrian yielding, and I wondered, what’s the correlation — higher GDP means more driving, more exuberant driving, less yielding to pedestrians? A new kind of Smeed curve?

But it’s actually the Gainesville Police Department that’s been trying to make things better for those on foot — and, say it again, everyone’s a pedestrian, even if just leaving one’s car — and I was particularly intrigued by the updated feedback signs (pictured above).

Needless to say, 52% is pretty pathetic.

Posted on Thursday, May 6th, 2010 at 8:10 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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How Can You Miss a Six-Foot Rabbit?

When it’s a pedestrian in California.

The report is here, via The Invisible Gorilla, the new blog for the new book by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.

A “dangerous stunt” indeed; almost as dangerous as actually crossing the road! Though I dare say this has less to do with inattentional blindness than the typical failure — due to lack of interest or legal understanding — of drivers to yield to pedestrians. Though per the “safety in numbers” effect, it might help if the rabbit were joined by many other giant rabbits, in which case we’d probably have other things to worry about than crosswalk compliance.

Posted on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 at 11:40 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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If you want to know why pedestrian fatalities dominate the global traffic safety picture, this CNN clip from Cairo is one of just many places you could start. And please, Cairo, don’t make the mistake of building pedestrian overpasses and underpasses to “fix” the problem.

(thanks vagabond)

Posted on Thursday, April 8th, 2010 at 7:48 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Road Swill

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day: Drunken pedestrian warning signs.

Alan of the Melbourne Urbanist sends along this link to the original Daily Telegraph dispatch; the sign is in Romania, but was apparently inspired by an unnamed town in Germany.

Interesting idea, though one wonders if the sign distracts drivers from the actual presence of sloshed revelers in the road; it also presume sobriety and attention on the part of the drivers themselves. “We must warn drivers that sometimes people who have little control over their actions can suddenly appear in the road,” the town’s mayor said. It’s just as appropriate to change the word ‘drivers’ to ‘pedestrians,’ to my mind.

Posted on Monday, March 15th, 2010 at 11:01 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The World’s Longest Street Crossing

Via the Daily Mail:

A frail pensioner who lives in a village with no pedestrian crossing has to take a 14-mile bus journey just to cross the road.

Partially blind Nancy Underwood, 89, walks with a Zimmer frame and is unable to cross the busy road outside her home because of the constant traffic.

If she wants to visit the Post Office or shop in Chideock, Dorset, she has to catch the Number 31 bus to Bridport three miles away before using a pedestrian crossing.

The grandmother-of-five then boards a return journey and stops off in Chideock on the opposite side of the road to her house, where she can safely visit the shop.

Not surprisingly, the town ranks rather low on Walk Score (25).

(thanks Peter)

Posted on Friday, March 12th, 2010 at 8:55 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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April 9, 2008.
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May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
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June 23, 2009
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June 26, 2009
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Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
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California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
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Yale University
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Delaware Center for Transportation

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Royal Automobile Club
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Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
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Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
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California Association of Cities
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Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
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April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
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April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
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January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
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January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
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March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
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May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
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August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
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