Friday, April 13, 2012

ODOT's Pedestrian Impedance: Blaming the Victim and the Dangers of Drunk Walking

In a magnificent illustration of Tom Vanderbilt's points about the marginalization of walking, in today's Friday the 13th news release ODOT says most people on foot are at fault when they get killed.
“a large percentage – about 70 percent – of the crashes show some action of the pedestrian was a contributing factor, so we want to remind walkers how important it is to be alert, be seen and follow the law.”
In addition to encroaching on autospace, drunk walking contributed to many deaths.
In 16 of the 23 crashes from these two periods, the pedestrian was illegally in the roadway, such as crossing between intersections or not yielding right of way to the vehicle that struck them. Seven of the 24 pedestrians killed wore dark clothing that made them not visible to the driver. About 58 percent of the pedestrians who died had some level of alcohol in their systems, with 42 percent of those having a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater, Oregon’s minimum legal limit for impaired driving.
Nevertheless, in a few cases, drivers might have been at fault:
Driver errors and impairment also contributed to some crashes. One crash that killed two pedestrians involved a driver not stopping as the pedestrians crossed in a crosswalk. Two drivers had alcohol in their systems.
As Vanderbilt says,
in an America enraptured by the cultural prosthesis that is the automobile, walking has become a lost mode, perceived as not a legitimate way to travel but a necessary adjunct to one’s car journey, a hobby, or something that people without cars—those pitiable “vulnerable road users,” as they are called with charitable condescension—do.
Vanderbilt also notes the ways people on foot exist as engineering noise or barriers:
And since our uncommon commitment to the car is at least in part to blame for the new American inability to put one foot in front of the other, the transportation engineering profession’s historical disdain for the pedestrian is all that much more pernicious. In modern traffic engineering the word has become institutionalized, by engineers who shorten pedestrian to the somehow even more condescending “peds”; who for years have peppered their literature with phrases like “pedestrian impedance” (meaning people getting in the way of vehicle flow). In early versions of traffic modeling software, pedestrians were not included as a default, and even today, as one report notes, modeling software tends to treat them not as actual actors, but as a mere “statistical distribution”, or as implicit “vehicular delay.”
In the face of an approach to walking safety like this, it's hard to believe that ODOT is really changing the culture around active transportation.

What do you think? Did you read the release differently and think it represents an appropriate approach to road safety?

1 comment:

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

According to the Salem Police Department, "Many serious crashes between vehicles and pedestrians and vehicles and bicyclists occurred within the City limits in 2010. In the majority of these accidents, the driver of the vehicle was at fault."

Seems a little at odds with ODOT's press release.