Phoenix-Area Cities Working on Pedestrian Safety

October 12, 2012

Phoenix, Ariz., cities are retrofitting their wide, car-centric streets to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and try to cut down on chronic accidents.

Phoenix, Peoria, Glendale, Scottsdale, Gilbert, Tempe and Mesa have joined a national trend by shifting their design philosophy to transportation equality for pedestrians and bicyclists. The Arizona Republic reports the cities are reconfiguring streets with wider sidewalks, more landscaping, bridges and a few specialized crossings.

National and state statistics show Arizona has a chronic problem with pedestrian deaths.

Phoenix ranks fourth on a list of cities with the highest percentage of pedestrian fatalities, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. An annual report with information supplied by Arizona cities on crashes shows little to no progress in reducing pedestrian fatalities over the past 15 years.

Among the new traffic devices are HAWKs, which stand for High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk. The crossings are often placed mid-block or at high pedestrian crossings include traffic lights activated by a pedestrian. They light and stop traffic just long enough for a pedestrian to cross and doesn’t hold up traffic as long as a conventional traffic signal.

Phoenix-area cities have 24 HAWKs in use or planned, while Tucson has more than 100 after inventing them 12 years ago and using a transit tax to pay for them. The city has made a science of pedestrian safety and attracted national acclaim from a federal study for pioneering the HAWK.

Other efforts to make streets safer include widened sidewalks near Peoria several schools and two-stage crossings, with pedestrian refuge islands to improve safety, near three high schools. Mesa and Gilbert installed conventional streetlights where canals popular with bicyclists and joggers cross major streets. Mesa is narrowing Main Street through downtown to one lane in each direction to cut traffic and make it friendlier for pedestrians as the Metro light rail is extended.

“I think there is a recognition that to have a more sustainable community, you have to have less reliance on the automobile,” said Kay Fitzpatrick, senior research engineer for the Texas Transportation Institute who authored a July 2010 study that showed the HAWK reduced pedestrian collisions by 69 percent. “I think the obesity issue is playing a role.”

Arizona’s bleak pedestrian-fatality statistics show residents have reason to fear crossing major streets. Crash Facts, an annual report on highway crashes produced by the Arizona Department of Transportation, recorded 153 pedestrians killed statewide in 1997, 166 killed in 2001 and 154 killed in 2011.

“There has to be mutual respect between pedestrians and vehicles,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, adding that he sees numerous examples of both motorists and pedestrians ignoring good safety practices every day. “We are all to blame for the lack of respect.”

In Phoenix, pedestrian deaths rose to 45 in 2010 from 36 in 2009, according to the latest available statistics.

Highway engineers caution that new crossings and traffic signals give pedestrians and motorists an opportunity to follow safe practices and are wasted if ignored.

Michael Hicks, Tucson’s Intelligent Transportation Systems manager, said he is proud of Tucson’s accomplishments in pedestrian safety, but nothing is foolproof.

“You can’t fix stupid,” Hicks said. “When we can, we have put in devices and technology that will promote safety for bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians.”

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