It’s the most dangerous time of year to be a pedestrian or a bicyclist: short days mean commutes in the dark, overcast weather obscures pedestrians even during daylight, and rain and snow increase the stopping distance for both drivers and cyclists. But as the Seattle Times reports, better infrastructure, such as in Washington’s recently updated wish list of pedestrian and cyclist projects, can make walking and biking both safer and more convenient—not just in wintertime, but year round.
Periodically King County compiles reports on the causes and situations surrounding pedestrian deaths, most recently for the years 2000 through 2003. In short, most fatalities occur when pedestrians either (a) do not follow traffic regulations, and/or (b) are impaired by age (old or young) or alcohol.
This suggests two things to me. First, that walking is fairly safe if you are a sober, law-abiding adult, especially if you have a safe place to walk. But in King County nearly 13 percent of the pedestrians were hit walking on a road without a sidewalk. And while people over the age of 60 made up one out of every four deaths, most were following the law and crossing in a crosswalk. With limited mobility, seniors often take more time to cross, so changes such as longer signal times and better lighting at crosswalks can make a big difference.
Second, because responsible walking is not as dangerous, building safer places to walk, and advertising them, could not only reduce pedestrian fatalities, but also encourage more walking. (And as we’ve reported before, there seems to be safety in numbers for pedestrians—that is, the more pedestrians there are on the streets, the lower the odds that they’ll be struck by a car.)
Reading this and other pedestrianfatality and safety studies, it seems to me that, yes, pedestrians need to be visible, follow the law, and look well before crossing the street, but they also need a decent infrastructure for walking—including sidewalks, bike paths, streetlights, and signaled street crossings. Other countries with much higher pedestrian rates also have much lower fatality rates. We can do better, too.