Pedestrian Deaths Reach Peak Numbers

Most accidents happen in crosswalks

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    Pedestrian deaths are at an all-time high in the city of San Diego since 2003, as NBC 7 Investigates' Wendy Fry explains. (Published Monday, Jul 7, 2014)

    Pedestrian deaths are at an all-time high in the city of San Diego since 2003.

    As NBC7 Investigates found, there are a limited number of crosswalks.
    This summer, the city is trying to update its longstanding policy that limits the number of crosswalks throughout the city.
    But we also found, it may not make a difference.
    NBC 7 Investigates reviewed data provided by the city of San Diego for 7,509 pedestrian accidents between January 2001 and December 2012, the latest data available. We found at least 50 percent of those accidents happened in crosswalks. 
    Between 2008 and 2012, 40 percent of total pedestrian collisions happened at signalized intersections, 37 percent happened in mid-block locations and 21 percent happened at locations without signals (with the last 3 percent happening in alleys or driveways.)
    Meanwhile in San Diego, the number of pedestrians killed more than doubled from 11 deaths to 23 between 2011 and 2012 – the latest numbers available.
    Circulate San Diego, a group that advocates for mobility and healthy neighborhoods, confirmed that between 2011 and 2012, more than half the 796 pedestrian collisions happened in crosswalks.
    Kathleen Ferrier, policy manager for Circulate San Diego, said her group believes crosswalks need to have higher visibility and that more need to be put in throughout the city to prompt changes to drivers’ behaviors.
    “We know that more people are walking, but they’re walking on streets that have been designed more for cars and less for people,” Ferrier said.
     
    Her group is urging the city to update its policy on crosswalks to allow more to be put in throughout the city. Current policy dates back to 1990 and operates on the premise that the use of crosswalks should be minimal.
     
    “It’s definitely outdated. No doubt about it,” Ferrier said.
    Current policy has stringent requirements on when a traffic engineer can sign-off on installing a crosswalk in a community. The area has to meet high thresholds for pedestrian volume, approach speed and visibility.
     
    Ferrier wants those requirements relaxed so that it’s easier for a community to petition to have a crosswalk installed.
     
    “You know, I think there’s often a disconnect in cities among decision-makers. Even though we have a general plan, and we have this blueprint for development how it’s going to be a city of villages, and we’re going to have walkable communities. Yet, a lot of the decisions that are made on a daily basis are with these outdated policies,” Ferrier said. 
     
    But not everyone thinks more crosswalks will make pedestrian safer.
     
    The San Diego intersections where the most pedestrians have been injured since 2001 are Euclid and Naranja, Ingraham and La Playa, and University and Fourth. All are streets with crosswalks, according to an NBC7 Investigates review of California Highway Patrol’s SWITRS database.
     
    Personal injury attorney Ross Jerewitz represents clients who have been hit on San Diego streets. He believes the city should do everything it can to signal to drivers and pedestrians where they can safely cross.
     
    “On the flip side, though, those same measures tend to make pedestrians feel like they’re bullet proof and they’ve got an invisible shield of armor around them when they cross the street,” Jerewitz said. “You’re going to lose every single time to a car, no matter if you have the right of way or not.”
     
    City Transportation spokesman Bill Harris says his department will be asking City Council to update its policy on crosswalks, which could reduce the requirements for getting one put into place.
     
    “The time is right to look at this more carefully and do it in a way that reflects modern San Diego,” Harris said. He said the old policy was aimed at limiting crosswalks because the city didn’t want to give pedestrians a false sense of security. But, he says the proposed change may include more than just additional crosswalks, such as new technologies, traffic calming measures and possibly an awareness campaign for walkers.
     
    He said there will be money in the budget for these types of improvements, but he’s not certain the change will result in a lot more crosswalks installed throughout the city.
    “I’m not certain about that and again, I’m going to hesitate a little bit because we’re going to see what the statistics bear out,” Harris said.
     
    Circulate San Diego believes once more crosswalks are put in, the culture will change and drivers will become more accustomed to stopping for pedestrians.
     
    “Yes, we feel that with simple projects, like with more paint, that we can start to see more lives saved,” Ferrier said.

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