|From Patrick O'Grady/Maddogmedia.com |
with occasional permission
Gotta get to sleep but just read this: "Danger Afoot for Pedestrians in Santa Fe".
I think we are missing something here. Sure, people drink and walk in cities. We know that is a problem. Thank God they are on foot rather than driving. But there is an elephant in the room, although you briefly touch on it. That elephant is road design.
Three of those four "high dead ped" roads (St. Francis, St. Michaels, Cerrillos) are wide and fast arterials. With recent construction, DOT just made Cerrillos practically wide enough to turn an aircraft carrier and it is posted 40 mph. Even if one is sober, crossing those wide, fast multilane streets (where crosswalks are often far between) is a challenge.
Urban speed kills, which is why many European cities adopting the Vision Zero traffic safety paradigm typically drop city traffic speed limits to 25 mph or lower on streets where there are lots of pedestrians afoot. The rough rule of thumb is that at 20 mph most peds hit by a car will survive and at 40 mph most get scraped off the road by the morgue truck. So, those wide and fast arterials you speak of are NOT safe for pedestrians because a mistake is going to be gruesome, if not fatal, and as we know, people make mistakes. The Vision Zero concept says that we expect mistakes and design the engineering to minimize the damage those mistakes will cause. Some references to impact speed vs. lethality here and here.
Afterthought added this morning. To some degree, crossing a "stroad" as a pedestrian is a high hazard activity, somewhat akin to working with Plutonium in a nuclear facility (something I did for years as a professional, Ph.D. level scientist). You design hazard mitigation so a mistake is not fatal. A single motorist or pedestrian mistake on a 40+ mph stroad can easily be fatal.
There was a mention in the article about midblock crossings where traffic signals at intersections are few and far between. One thing we found in Honolulu back in the nineties was that adding midblock crossings on multilane urban arterials was getting older folks hit by cars as motorists could be screened by adjacent traffic and not see a person starting into the street. But that was before HAWK systems. So that might work well now but it would require HAWK systems and having tried to get DOT to install one up here was the proverbial Land War in Asia.
Up here in Bombtown, Central Avenue has been our main shopping area prior to the Smiths Marketplace. We wanted to slow traffic down from 35 mph. While I was on the Transportation Board we re-engineered the street by narrowing it and adding bulbouts and many ped amenities. We dropped the posted speed to 25 mph and the 85th percentile speed is actually lower than that. Motorists have that extra time to pick up a pedestrian setting foot into the street, which is another benefit. Design works. So even if we have an incident, it is a low speed incident and the survivability is statistically and in terms of the physics, better.
My wife crossed St. Francis Drive ONCE, and only once, at Alamo Drive in broad daylight to walk from the house to Albertson's and nearly died from fright. She will never do that again. Its considerably better to cross St. Francis at Crucitas/Paseo de Peralta as motorists have finally slowed down after flying down that long hill into town at 50-60 mph and finally cutting the afterburners. It is a longer walk.
Google the Strong Towns web site and read about "stroads", which are a mismatch of designs that try to put rural road traffic speeds and throughput onto wide urban streets. Those engineers and planners you speak with will admit under torture that their designs are primarily to move as many cars as possible (optimize motor vehicle level of service) and the stuff they throw in for ped improvements are designed, as you say in the article, to impede "traffic", i.e. motor traffic, as little as possible. So of course people jaywalk. At foot speeds who wants to walk a mile for that Camel if the store is across the street? In the case of the article, if a homeless shelter (where we know substance abuse and mental illness might be problems) is across the "stroad" from a bus stop, what the hell do we think will happen?
I wonder sometimes what we would think if it were not drunks down on their luck getting killed. Perhaps we need to kill a few high profile people if we are to get something changed. Any volunteers from City Council, the NMDOT, or Santa Fe Institute? The cop who hit and killed the unlucky Francisco Navarette was fined eighty bucks for doing 52 mph in a 40 zone. Of course he could not avoid the crash. He was probably going too fast to avoid Mr. Navarette's mistake. A Vision Zero paradigm would have identified this as a likely failure mode scenerio. Alice Sookying Cameron, who was doing everything right when she was hit and killed by someone alleged to be driving while cellular, got a more sympathetic treatment. She was a corporate VP for accounting.
The bottom line is that it there is no one obvious and affordable fix to this mess, and too many conflicting interests to have a simple answer. It is practically impossible to design a city with both superwide, fast arterials to channel traffic swiftly and at the same time encourage walking if someone has to cross those streets at grade. And of course, once you build those giant arterials and encourage sprawl, its really tough to put that bad boy back in the bottle. Furthermore, walkability is compromised by sprawl.
Sorry for the prolonged rant, but I guess its my dozen years of T Board service showing.
Khal Spencer, Ph.D., geological sciences
Member/Chair, Los Alamos County Transportation Board 2003-2017, now off the board and speaking for myself.