Far more pedestrians are killed each year than persons who die from plane, train, boat and ship accidents. Yet, pedestrian fatalities don’t receive the same degree of political and media attention. It’s almost as if pedestrian deaths are seen as expected and unavoidable. Yet, that’s not how it should be.
City administrations can play a huge part in placing pedestrian safety at the center of their road planning. It’s a recognition that, unlike a car’s occupants, pedestrians are more likely to experience death or a serious injury in a road accident. Pedestrians, therefore, need extra security because they are not protected by the physical barrier of a motor vehicle’s frame.
Here are a number of medium- to long-term strategies cities can deploy to bolster pedestrian safety.
Foster Compact, Connected Cities
Compact, connected cities lower the risks that pedestrians are exposed to by decreasing traffic volume and reducing the average number of moving vehicles a pedestrian encounters daily.
Cities should prioritize land-use that minimizes distances between key locations, encourages the use of mass transit, ensures that high-speed roads don’t cut through mixed-use or residential areas, and improves street connectivity.
Street design can better pedestrian safety by improving accessibility and visibility while encouraging good behavior from drivers. For instance, traffic circles have proven effective at reducing motor vehicle speeds at intersections, a common site of pedestrian injury and fatality.
Speed bumps can help manage vehicle velocity near school zones and residential areas. Narrower streets force slower, more cautious driving, which in turn, makes it safer for pedestrians on the sidewalks and those crossing the road.
Diversify Options of Safe Mobility
Studies have shown that well-run public transit systems are safer for pedestrians than cars. In many advanced economies, the casualty rate for public transit is just a tenth of that of automobile travel. Transit-oriented cities experience lower pedestrian deaths.
While it might not be realistic for cities to completely eliminate automobile travel, they should create or facilitate multiple transportation options for maximum impact. Policies that offer economic incentives for reducing private motor vehicle travel, such as parking policies and congestion charging, should be encouraged.
Matching allowed speed with the travel mode and usage type for each street is a key pillar of pedestrian safety. People walking should not be unnecessarily exposed to potentially fatal speeds of cars whizzing past.
Appropriate speed limits, interventions that separate pedestrians from traffic and other similar measures will have minimal impact on average commute time, and yet greatly enhance the safety of pedestrians. Actually, commute times in cities are less determined by speed, and more a factor of the number of intersections.
Enforce Laws and Regulations
Often, cities already have fairly robust laws and regulations that protect pedestrians. The problem is the level and consistency of enforcement. Just improving traffic law enforcement can result in a quick reduction of pedestrian injury and fatality.
Requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians, adhere to the speed limit and avoid driving while intoxicated can have far-reaching positive implications for pedestrian safety. Installing red light cameras at intersections and rolling out higher penalties for speeding offenses could be valuable deterrents for reckless driving.
Road User Education
When it comes to road safety, prevention is always better and cheaper. Ensuring road users are well-trained and competent in their responsibilities is a big part of winning the battle for pedestrian safety in advance. Road user education programs should be proactive, regulated, thorough and practical.
Education should start as early as possible, including introducing road use programs in schools to prepare adolescents. Engineers, planners, law enforcement and healthcare professionals should be routinely sensitized on the principles and actions that strengthen pedestrian safety. Mass media campaigns can have a significant effect on road user behavior as well.
Each strategy for enhancing pedestrian safety may seem small and simple, but the impact of lives saved and reduced injuries are huge. By playing their part, cities can ensure pedestrian deaths aren’t inevitable.