By Greg Heller
This post continues the discussion about the balance between cars and people. As I mentioned previously, I am seeing a real shift in focus, with much more planning and concern for pedestrians and cyclists. This shift brings opportunities, but also challenges. Here is a Philly-local case in point.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has been out every day this week holding a safety education campaign. The location is the mid-block crosswalk that connects the
Here’s the story: A law-abiding driver stopped to allow the father and four-year-old son take their bike over the crosswalk. However, another impatient driver in an SUV zoomed around the stopped car, and struck the pair as they reached the median island, knocking down the “pedestrian crossing” sign, and badly inuring the father and child.
This incident could be blamed on one unsafe driver. However, I have crossed at this and other mid-block crosswalks in
And so I joined the Bicycle Coalition this morning. About a dozen Bicycle Ambassadors and Coalition members stood at least 20 feet from the crosswalk holding yield-to-pedestrians-within-crosswalk signs. The Coalition stationed some individuals about 100 feet away from the crosswalk, and others just near the crosswalk. They also positioned orange traffic cones on the shoulder and centerline to alert drivers.
Even with all of this activity, when pedestrians were waiting to cross, most drivers still cruised on through. So I tested something. I started waving and pointing at pedestrians when they were waiting. I noticed a significant increase in driver compliance when I did this; more drivers stopped when I motioned for them to glance toward the curb. This tells me that some drivers simply are not paying attention to the curb line – the possibility of a waiting pedestrian.
Another interesting phenomenon was that some pedestrians were hesitant to cross, even when traffic was completely stopped for them. It often took one of us telling the pedestrian “you may cross now,” before the individual took a step into the roadway. Pedestrians in
After the Bicycle Coalition members leave, I’m sure that the crosswalk will go back to its normal hazardous condition. So what can we do?
I have heard some folks say they think the City should install a pedestrian traffic signal at this location. Certainly there are plenty of other engineering solutions to make this crosswalk safer that do not include signalization (I know something about this since in my day job I am part of a three person team that carries out an annual traffic calming study). However, these types of interventions do not solve the larger issue. We can fix this location, but that would not change the
What we really need is a total commitment by the City and State to educating drivers about the law, while engineering the roadway to naturally slow traffic at crosswalk approaches, and have heightened enforcement of the law. Other states, regions, and cities have a different culture – one where it is common sense and the norm for drivers to stop for pedestrians waiting at a crosswalk. We should demand nothing less in
We cannot engineer our way out of safety issues. Traffic calming literature is clear that safe roadways rely on a three-pronged approach: engineering, education, and enforcement. It was evident, standing out there this morning, that many people probably just do not know the law, are not used to complying with it, and do not often look out to the side of the road to see if pedestrians are waiting. Better roadway engineering needs to be coupled with a massive public education campaign, and periodic enforcement by the police.
Public education needs to come from the top. It is great that the Bicycle Coalition is taking this initiative, but ultimately educating drivers is the job of the police and the Department of Transportation. Car drivers do not deserve all the blame.
We can alter the status quo. As our nation begins its shift to valuing pedestrians and cyclists, we also need to shift our behavior, values, and expectations. These shifts will come, but it needs to come from the top and from the grassroots at the same time.