Have you ever stood at a crosswalk and wondered if you should attempt to cross or not. Are you taking your life in your hands? A new report released by Smart Growth America ranks cities and states by how dangerous their streets are for pedestrians even stating that over the past decade, pedestrian-traffic deaths out number natural disaster deaths by over 16 times. Right here in Syracuse, 46 deaths have been reported within 10 miles of the city center and 67 deaths occurred within 25 miles between 2003 and 2012 and sadly, the number is rising.
Smart Growth America has teamed with many of the nation’s leading traffic and safety organizations to urge cities such as Syracuse to adopt a complete streets policy that encourages responsible street design. Complete streets are roadways designed for accessibility to all users and methods of transportation. Guidelines are created to ensure that traffic planners addresses safety concerns related to speed, cross walk timing, bus and bike route planning and implementation, and lighting. Well-designed streets improve the health and well-being of all users and even create strong economic opportunities for businesses and developments along these corridors.
I know what you are thinking… our city cannot afford to create these user friendly streets. We are already grappling with an infrastructure nightmare and a highway apocalypse. Thankfully, the keen folks at NACTO, National Association for City Transportation Officials have developed procedures to help communities implement safer street designs without gutting existing infrastructure in their Interim Design Guidelines plan.
What Can We Do?
Two of the lowest cost updates outlined in the guide are curb extensions and changes to cross-walk timers. Curb extensions are what they sound like, areas of the sidewalk or curbside area that jut out into the existing road to create narrower roads. The extensions create a place for outdoor furniture, bike racks, landscaping, or even bus offsets. Road narrowing calms traffic and creates an environment where motorists are forced to pay attention. And then there are cross-walks. How many of you have been a few steps into a busy intersection when a car came flying around a corner, not paying attention to the cross walk sign and actually beeping at you for following crossing guides, or worse, actually hitting you with their vehicle? Well timed cross-walks give pedestrians a head start into the intersection or crossing, which allows drivers the ability to clearly see people in their path and delay their turn or advancement through that crossing.
Small changes to our street design can have a big impact on our safety, especially for our youth and elder friends and family. If you agree that we can do more to save lives and reduce traffic related accidents, please encourage our leaders to endorse the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide and join Rochester, NY and 30+ other communities who have made a commitment to improve pedestrian safety in their community’s.