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Posts Tagged ‘pedestrian safety’

I am often troubled by the complete disregard many drivers have for pedestrians.

A situation I encounter on a regular basis is vehicles parking on the sidewalk. On my route between home and work, I walk by The Grateful Bagle, a bagel shop on Main Street. Given the form of the building my guess it was a service station back in the day. But today it’s a popular bagel shop. There is no indoor seating but there are tables in front of the store that are often filled with patrons.

I suppose it’s because of the former service station life of the property that drivers feel entitled to pull up in front of the shop, but many of them end up parking on the sidewalk. This happens all the time. img_20151012_101352009.jpgimg_20151022_080737406.jpgimg_20150914_081231457.jpgimg_20151209_082841202.jpgimg_20160127_130544562.jpgimg_20150910_082508032.jpgimg_20151015_134315108.jpgimg_20150914_081326859_hdr.jpgimg_20151214_082942606_hdr.jpgimg_20151015_134150526.jpgimg_20160411_081812938.jpgimg_20160406_123126960_hdr.jpgIt’s not that it’s impossible to get around the car, but I do feel that it shows a disregard for the pedestrian and the small amount of space in the public realm that is allotted to us. Most of the space on our streets is devoted to the car. the curb-to-curb width of Main Street in front of The Grateful Bagel is 50′. There are two 8′ parking lanes and two 17′(!!!) drive lanes. The sidewalk is about 6′ wide.

The Grateful Bagel does have parking in the back, and there is generally space nearby on Main Street. But still, people park on the sidewalk. And given the extensive curb cut along the side street it’s easy to pull right in. (It’s interesting to look back at these photos and notice that most of the offenders seem to be driving pick-up trucks…).

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I admit the parking lot is difficult to access from the side street as the curb cut is in the wrong location, but there is a curb cut on Main Street which leads to a driveway on the opposite side of the building from where the photo is taken. And it would not be difficult to add a curb cut on this street as well.

It would be easy enough to add a planter along the backside of the sidewalk along the side street and expand the amount of outdoor seating. I don’t believe this would hurt business, but actually would improve it as it would be a nicer place to sit without the imposition of a car or truck adjacent to your table.

I’m sensing an opportunity for some tactical urbanism…

 

 

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The City of Sebastopol recently debuted it’s most recent attempt at slowing traffic in town. Created by local sculptor Patrick Amiot, Slow Down Cat is seen as a way to enhance local traffic safety and help the police department enforce safe speeds while building goodwill between the community and police department. While I love the idea of using art as traffic calming we’re going to need a lot more Slow Down Cats to create any real impact. We need a battalion of Slow Down Cats.Slow Down Cat (in the police department parking lot)

Slow Down Cat moves around town. He gets parked on the side of the road, usually staying in one spot for several days and then moving. To be honest, I often see Slow Down Cat parked in the police station parking lot. I’m not sure how often he is let out.

Unfortunately, parking Slow Down Cat on the side of the road makes it too easy to ignore for a driver. Just like those speed limit signs. However, putting an obstruction in the road is a much more effective way to reduce speeds. If Slow Down Cat were located at the center of the road it would likely have a bigger impact. The army of Slow Down Cats  could be located at intersections, particularly those along Main Street and Healdsburg Avenue. And they could each be a unique design. Slow Down Dog, Slow Down Bear, Slow Down Rocket Ship…I’d put them at every intersection that doesn’t already have a 4-way stop or traffic signal, and maybe even at some of those just for fun. The sculpture could be installed on a concrete platform, like a mini-roundabout. This would remind people to slow down where it’s most important, at intersections where pedestrians are crossing. It would be a relatively inexpensive traffic calming solution which we desperately need, as I discussed previously. And we certainly have space at these excessively wide streets to accomplish it.

Slow Down Petaluma-Sebastopol Slow Down Petaluma-Main Slow Down Gravenstein Slow Down Healdsburg Ave Slow Down Main-Bodega Slow Down Healdsburg-FlorenceThe artist of Slow Down Cat lives in Sebastopol and many of his neighbors have his sculptures in their yards. The most common question I receive by visitors to Sebastopol is how to get to the street where the sculptures are. Imagine the impact of having them located up and down our main streets. This is a great tourist attraction and placemaking opportunity as well.

The straight and wide design of the roads in town encourages people to drive fast than the posted speed limit. And we need a traffic calming plan beyond a radar gun, which is the primary means of traffic calming in Sebastopol today. Slow Down Cat is a nice idea, but he needs to be a more widespread presence in order to have a lasting impact. Drivers need constant reminding to keep their speeds down in town. Let’s employ local artists to make more Slow Down fill in the blank and start populating our streets with them. We could have a competition! Drivers will take notice and we’ll all benefit from the slower speeds, and interesting artwork.

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I’ve discussed the issue of lane width several times on this blog (here and here). Main Street in Sebastopol has absurdly wide travel lanes. This is largely a legacy of the days when a train rumbled down the center of the street. But the train is long gone and yet we have lanes that are up to 17′ wide. I walk Main Street several times a day between my office and home and people drive really fast. And I’m the first to admit that it’s difficult to stick to the posted 25 mph speed limit when driving in an 17′ wide lane. It really takes attention and effort to drive 25 mph here. And I’m uber-aware of the situation. Most people don’t give a second thought to traveling at 35+ mph on Main Street.

This article discusses several recent studies that demonstrate the benefits of a 10′ wide travel lane in reducing accidents and being able to move just as many cars as a wider lane.

We need to right-size our streets in Sebastopol, and around the country, if we are serious about slowing cars and improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

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I walk. A lot. I try to walk or bike when I need to get around town as much as possible. Which generally works well. I’m fortunate in that I live 2 blocks from my office and within walking or biking distance of most of my daily needs. Occasionally I need to drive to an out of town meeting, but I often do not drive at all during the week.

Sebastopol has been making improvements to the pedestrian infrastructure, but generally, our streets are still dominated by cars and pedestrians need to remain vigilant. The most significant thing the city has been doing is installing improved crosswalks. These have signs, stamped colored asphalt paving and flashing lights (some crosswalks have them embedded in the paving in addition to pole-mounted lights) that are triggered by pedestrians pushing a button prior to crossing. Not every car stops when the lights are flashing, but eventually they do and it makes drivers more aware of pedestrians.

Street Smart Sebastopol crossing of Main Street and Calder

Street Smart Sebastopol crossing of Main Street and Calder

However, as pedestrians, we cannot assume that we are always seen by drivers and must take responsibility for our own safety. Cars are big and potentially dangerous to pedestrians, and pedestrians need to remain alert to that fact. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration more than 4,700 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in 2012 and over 76,000 were injured. I often see pedestrians engaging in activities that could put themselves into danger. Most often it is texting or talking on their phone or listening to music. While it may not be as dangerous as doing so while driving it does take your attention away from what you are doing. This is particularly dangerous when you find yourself in a space you have to share with a car like crossing a street or driveway. Drivers do not always see you and it is your responsibility to make sure they do.

While the newer, improved crosswalks are helpful, I never walk into the crosswalk until I am positive that the car is stopping, and then I proceed slowly until I know that the car in the second lane is stopping as well. It is amazing how often a car in the lane closest to me stops and several cars blow by in the next lane, as if the first car is stopping for no reason. And they are more effective when activated. I see many people just walk into the crosswalk without pushing the button to  turn on the flashing lights. I know it’s one more thing to do, but it’s worth the effort.

Pedestrians also must never assume that just because you have a walk signal at a crosswalk, or a green light that it is safe to cross. You still need to watch for cars making right hand turns and cars running a red light. Drivers are not always looking for you, so you must be aware of them.

One-way streets create a difficult situation for pedestrians crossing intersecting side streets. And because Main Street and Petaluma Avenue are one-way we have quite a few of these locations in Sebastopol. Drivers on the side streets that are turning onto the one-way street tend only to look for vehicular traffic coming from the single direction. If you are a pedestrian coming from the opposite direction it is likely they will not look in your direction. You need to make sure they are aware of you before you enter the street.

I will say that I think being a regular walker has made me a better driver. Since I’m so often a pedestrian I find myself more aware of pedestrians and bikes when I’m driving. If we design our communities to encourage more walking we may end up with better drivers. Much of the emphasis on decreasing traffic accidents focuses on drivers, and they do have a big responsibility as cars can be deadly and we need to always be aware of that fact as drivers. However, traffic safety is a shared responsibility and pedestrians must remain vigilant and accountable for their own safety.

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I came across this article today by Jeff Speck where he discusses reducing drive lane widths on urban streets from 12′ to 10′. Reading down through the comments there are obviously strong opinions on both sides, but it seems like an obvious safety improvement to me and I think would go a long way to helping create more human-scaled streets here in Sebastopol, and probably many other communities across the country.

You can read the whole article here, but in a nutshell in the article Speck looks at several studies showing that a reduction in lane width leads to reduced accidents, and those accidents that do occur result in less fatalities as cars are generally traveling slower when in 10′ lanes than 12′ lanes. He states people drive at the speed at which they feel safe:

On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment. Are there other cars near me? Is an intersection approaching? Can I see around that corner? Are there trees and buildings near the road? Are there people walking or biking nearby? And: How wide is my lane?

28' wide High St - how fast would you drive here?

28′ wide High St – how fast would you drive here?

I see the difference in how people drive on streets with vastly different lane widths every day. The street I live on is 28′ curb to curb with parallel parking on both sides. With cars parked on both sides you are left with a roughly 14′ travel lane. it’s not a high volume road, but it is used fairly often as it serves as it is a through street as many others in the neighborhood have limited connections. We also have a school at the end of the street so traffic definitely increases before and after school. Given the 14′ travel lane width it’s not comfortable for cars traveling in opposite directions to pass one another. So one car has to ‘give way’ and pull over in between parked cars to let the approaching car pass. The narrow lane width, parked cars, people on the sidewalks, trees and houses with 10′-15′ setbacks are all physical features of the environment that clue drivers to keep their speeds relatively low. Sure there are those that blow through at 30-35 mph from time to time, but generally I would say most people drive less than 25 mph and many drive less than 20 mph because that’s what feels safe.

Looking South on Main Street - How fast would you want to drive here?

Looking South on Main Street – How fast would you want to drive here?

In contrast, Main St., which is 1 block away, has 2 one-way travel lanes that are 17′ wide with 8′ parallel parking lanes on both sides (no bike lane, although one is planned which will reduce the lane widths somewhat). Heck, I’d be thankful for a reduction to 12′ here, but 10′ would be even better. The posted speed limit is 25 mph, increasing to 30 about one block to the south for some reason, but drivers regularly speed along here. And why not, with 17′ wide lanes there is a lot of wiggle room before you would move into the adjacent lane or a parked car (and there are often stretches without parked cars, as seen in the photo, which makes the lane feel even wider – effectively 25′ from center stripe to curb). The road is also very straight. There is little to keep you driving at 25 mph other than self-restraint. All visual signals are for you to drive faster than you should. There are several crosswalks with bulb-outs and flashing lights, but drivers often ignore pedestrians waiting to cross.

It’s unfortunate that the 28′ wide street I live on could not be built today (I could not find a copy of the city’s street standards on-line, but I’m pretty sure a 28′ wide street is not in the standards. Certainly not with parking on both sides). The fire department for one would never allow it. They want 20′ clear. To my knowledge no house has burned down, and no one has died because a fire truck or ambulance could not maneuver the street, and it’s been here probably 100 years. But it works very well for keeping car speeds load and pedestrian, bike and car safety high.

This issue is particularly relevant to a blog post I’ve been working on and will hopefully get out next – It’s mostly written but needs some graphics. I have an idea for adding protected bike lanes to Main St. which will reduce lane widths and allow for shorter pedestrian crossings. The idea is to create a more balanced Main Street experience where all users of the public right-of-way pedestrians, bikes, cars and transit may be accommodated. Stay tuned.

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