Wednesday, November 8, 2017

With Call to Revive Jaywalking Laws, City Study Whiffs on Speed

Pedestrian Safety Study

They knew better
 in 1937
The City has released a "Pedestrian Safety Study," but in important ways it reverts to early 20th-century patterns of blame for people on foot and even of criminalizing walking. While the recommendation to "reconsider the lack of jaywalking laws," is not itself the central and most important recommendation, it is symptomatic and a real reflection of the study's limitations.

More than anything else, the study avoids the asymmetry in speed, power, and lethality between people in cars and people on foot.

Recommendation: Reconsider jaywalking laws
The study ends up being more about channelizing people walking into "the right place," about getting pedestrians out of the way, and about protecting drivers from unwanted crashes and messy complications, than it is about making walking in Salem a delightful, inviting, and preferred choice for short trips. It assumes a baseline of driving as the preferred and prioritized choice. In this way its orientation remains fundamentally autoist and represents a reversion to 20th century norms rather than a development that supports modern, 21st century travel choice and the increasingly exigent demands for responding to climate disruption.

Our earlier campaign to criminalize walking:
"The forgotten history of how automakers
invented the crime of 'jaywalking'"

Hopefully we are not heading towards
requirements for Pedestrian Safety Equipment
The historical perspective is not a matter of trivia. Just as we navigated a tremendous shift in the 1910s - 1930s in vehicles, road design, and planning, the transition to autonomous vehicles looms similarly large. Manufacturers and the larger auto-industrial complex, including engineers and consultants, probably would like to engineer as much predictability for pedestrians as possible, even to the point of requiring reflective gear or transponders. What if you had to have a smart phone or RFID chip to walk anywhere? Software and liability law could totally impose that requirement on people. It is important to note we are at, or approaching close to, something of an inflection point, able to choose one way or another.

Back in January 2016, City Council received a report from Public Works and the Police on people killed while walking in Salem. (Notes on the first version here, and on a slightly revised version here.) This led the City to commission a more detailed report from an outside consultant. That report has been published and the City will hold a brown bag open house on it November 13th at noon in the Library as well as present more formally the findings to Council that evening in a work session before the Council meeting proper. (See the City facebook for the event announcement.)

Where is a discussion of speed?

One of the biggest, maybe outright the biggest period, omission is a map or table of posted speeds where the crashes occurred.

Know what's missing? Posted Speed.
The study correlates all kinds of variables, but not the posted speed on the roadway.

Here for example is a pie chart for roadway character and for weather.

(The pagination has been altered for clarity)
There's a chart on gender, but the disparity is hardly noticed for more discussion. We know men are more aggressive drivers, but it's also possible they are more assertive street-crossers. Conversely, because of harassment and safety concerns, fewer women walk and they are likely to be less assertive about crossing mid-block or at unmarked crosswalks. There is almost certainly a full sidewalk ethnography of social and cultural factors that shapes our choices to walk or not to walk, and even if that wasn't the primary thrust of the study, it might usefully have been given more room. (A full treatment of safety for people walking will at least include mention of the specific problem of safety for women walking alone; for, of course, if they are not even on the sidewalk, they will never try to cross the street.)

Death especially seems to be gendered
But there is nothing in the analysis on speed itself.

Instead, the section on behavior dwells oddly on "illegal," "distracted," or "impaired" walking, and crucially relies on a fabricated category that has no basis in City of Salem statute or code. It is hard not to think it is fundamentally premised on impugning and marginalizing "bad behavior" by people on foot. There is a real bias here.

From the report:
The most commonly reported contributing factor to pedestrian crashes during the study period was the driver’s failure to yield (53%). Other reported factors include: pedestrian illegally in the roadway (30%), pedestrian not visible (14%), driver disregarding a traffic signal (11%), and inattention (3%). Although intoxication was not listed as a contributing factor in the ODOT crash database, a review of the police report narratives indicated that four of the 13 fatal crashes and three of the 29 serious injury crashes involved a pedestrian that was likely impaired (alcohol, drugs, or both).

It should be noted that all Oregon crash data is maintained by the State of Oregon, and thus references to “illegal” behavior (such as “pedestrian illegally in roadway” or “pedestrian violation”) are categorized based on State laws. Such “illegal” behaviors include pedestrians crossing at unmarked mid-block locations, pedestrians crossing against signals or signs, pedestrians laying or standing in the roadway, and pedestrians entering the roadway unexpectedly. In the City of Salem, however, there are no jaywalking laws and it is legal for pedestrians to cross a roadway at any location. Because it is difficult or even impossible to isolate the exact behavior that warranted the “illegal” categorization, there is no way to re-categorize the crashes based on City of Salem laws. Therefore, the terms “pedestrian illegally in roadway” and “pedestrian violation” are still referenced in this report, even though a subset of the behaviors may not actually be illegal in the City of Salem. [italics added]
Hotspot and Corridor Assessment

There are several maps that usefully locate crashes, but the one that specifically lists fatalities is hampered by the way it erases the identity of the dead. Without names or photos, we abstract them into statistics and rob them of essential human dignity. It is not to be ghoulish to think we should more squarely face the human cost of our roadways and autoism. Additionally, the lack of names and personhood makes it easier to blame them for "illegal" walking. This is a rhetorical move that supports autoism. (See below on Mission Street for more on this.)

Crucially, none of the deaths happens on a neighborhood "local street" or even a "collector street." One death is on a "minor arterial," and all the others on "major arterials" or greater. It's not just traffic volumes that are higher on these streets! Speeds are higher also, and speed, not count of cars, is what kills people. Count of cars might be an important ingredient in the probability of a crash - more cars, more people, more opportunities - but the lethality of the crash is largely determined by speed.

The deaths mapped (highlight added for clarity)

Hotspots (magenta), corridors (green)
Significantly, the most general set of "citywide observations" leads with speeding and the behavior of drivers. It doesn't lead with "illegal" walking. It follows this with barriers people on foot encounter like long distances between signalized crossings. Then there is a paragraph about "illegal" walking.

Speeding, aggression, non-yielding
There is a bit of a shift in the "corridor observations," which do not dwell on speed. The pattern I see here road design that discourages walking: inadequate lighting, conflict points, aggressive driving, few gaps in traffic, long distances between signalized crossings. There is a little about speeding, but nothing about posted speed. Mostly it's about the formidable barriers, physical and psychological, people on foot encounter.

A little about speeding, but nothing about posted speeds


Overall the recommendations focus on countermeasures to channelize or guide people on foot to the right time, manner, and place for walking. They don't talk at all about reducing speed for drivers.
Nothing about posted speeds or design speeds
The "site-specific" analysis and recommendations for countermeasures are generally better. There is less to quibble with here. But significantly, while they accurately highlight the problems, they don't dwell enough on the cause.

They mention "speeding," "aggressive driving," "pedestrian delays," "few gaps in traffic," "feels unsafe," etc. But the root cause here is that we have prioritized auto through-put. The cars and their speeds are the problem - not distracted, impaired, or otherwise improper walking.

The Study concludes with a call to "reconsider the lack of jaywalking laws." It puts the burden for safety on people on foot, not people in cars.

The City might instead think more about jaydriving, about posted speeds, design speeds, and even a "twenty is plenty" approach to urban speed.

Until we grapple more seriously with driving, drivers, and road design, our "solutions" will be cosmetic at best.

Speed and the Mission Street and Commercial Street Corridors

Let's drill into a couple of the most problematic corridors. The first one is a State Highway and is posted for highway speeds.

85th percentile speeds on Mission Street
Drivers routinely exceed 50mph here
From the OR-22 Existing Conditions memo and City of Salem
As it happens, the consultant also conducted the OR-22/Mission Street Corridor study that just completed, and it is interesting that their comment here on Mission Street says nothing about the posted speed, which if followed lawfully still guarantees lethality in a crash. And if you look at 85% speeds - so that means 15% of drivers exceed that speed! - west of I-5 they're pretty much at 45mph or more.

Connor Jordan's death

Connor Jordon, 22
via The Province
One of the deaths in the study is Connor Jordan. He was lawfully crossing Mission Street in a marked crosswalk with the light, but James Sinks blew the light and killed him. Sinks was not speeding, but the 85% speed of 48mph on Mission at that intersection guarantees lethality. There is no forgiveness in the road design for people on foot if they make an error or if a driver makes an error.

About Mission Street, the study says only:
High vehicle volumes along entire corridor, pedestrian usage is highest west of Airport Road. High density of driveways west of 25th Street which creates more conflict points for pedestrians and vehicles. Night observation revealed that several lights along corridor were non-functioning.
But this misses the nut of the problem. The painted lines of a crosswalk won't protect you from death when you are struck at 50mph.

If you are struck at 50mph here on Mission St, you are dead
(These two photos are from the ODOT project site)
The corridors where people have died mostly all have posted speeds that are too high. Remember, at 30mph, survival is basically a 50/50 coin flip. At 40mph, death is a near certainty.

via Placemakers
The total silence in the study on posted speeds, design speed, and 85% speed is a serious defect in the study.

Alex Armes death mentions nothing about speed,
but blames "likely intoxication." He was 18.
Another problematic corridor is Commercial Street. The consultant also studied a segment of it as part of the Commercial-Vista Corridor Study.

4245 people/day speed more than 10mph over limit here
Salem Presentation Slides, Dec2014
They also found that 85% speeds were a great problem, especially for people on foot.

Nothing about speed here
Alex Armes obituary
But in the current study, although the corridor assessment included mention of "aggressive vehicle turning," it does not talk about the basic fact of posted speeds and 85% speeds. As with Mission Street, there is no forgiveness for people on foot if they make a mistake or if a driver makes a mistake.

Even if Alex Armes was intoxicated and underage, he did not deserve to die. Since it was a hit-and-run, we do not know if the driver's lights were on or if the driver was themself intoxicated. Moreover, an elderly person or a young child crossing the road in the morning or early evening might make similar errors of judgement or perception, but they are not intoxicated and also do not deserve censure. A safe roadway system operates for the young and old as well as a person walking home from a bar or party (who might have made the right choice instead of driving).

In a foundational way, the study misses the centrality of lethal posted speeds and 85% speeds on roads where drivers have killed people walking. It also blames victims, shifts too much responsibility to people on foot, and absolves drivers, engineering, and road design too quickly. The balance is wrong and Council should not accept this study as-is.

With jaywalking laws, this walk to the bus stop would be illegal
For more see:


Evan said...

Hopefully you've seen the Streetsblog article from this week blowing up the distracted walking mess.

Tyson Pruett said...

I think it takes both items to be successful. I live in West Salem but work downtown. I often take State Street to turn onto Front to get on the bridge. It is not uncommon for it to take 3 light cycles to get 5 cars thru that light as pedestrians will continue to walk across against the red blinking light up until the light turns green so that at most one car gets thru the light. So making sure that the posted speed is proper and enforced and that the pedestrian laws are also enforced will make for good neighbors.

Anonymous said...

The pedestrian behavior that Mr. Pruett is describing is legal. The the ped signal is flashing which means the light is green. A pedestrian has just as much right to cross that intersection on a green signal as a motorist does. I think the impatience with law abiding behavior only emphasizes the assymetrical nature of the discussion.

I think that road design influences driver behavior more than speed limits do. I think most drivers understand this and they understand that "proper" speed limits are unenforceable.