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Pedestrian Safety

A successful pedestrian safety program requires constant effort and cooperation between all levels of government. Each year, approximately 130,000 people are injured and 7,400 are killed in pedestrian accidents. Children and senior citizens are involved in a disproportional number of these cases. Pedestrian accidents are more frequent in urban areas but are more likely to be fatal in rural areas.

"Walk the Walk" details the causes of pedestrian accidents and the strategies local and school officials can utilize to address these issues. Any governmental entity may download and use this video.

Intersection mishaps are the most common pedestrian accident. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable because they may not cross the street as quickly and often fail to notice vehicles in turning lanes. Children are more prone to midblock accidents, especially where parked cars are present. Alcohol is a frequent factor in accidents where the pedestrian was struck while walking along a roadway.

Increased speeds put pedestrians at higher risk. If a car traveling 20 mph hits a pedestrian, there is a 95% chance that the pedestrian will survive. However, the survival rate decreases to 45% at 30 mph and less than 10% at 40 mph. Reducing speeds, especially where pedestrians concentrate in residential and business districts must have a high priority in any pedestrian safety campaign.

To be successful, a safety program must include four basic elements, known as the four E’s: Evaluation, Engineering, Education and Enforcement.        

  • Evaluation: Start by reviewing pedestrian accident reports and marking their location on a map. This exercise will help you identify accident “hot spots” in your community. Visit these locations to get a better understanding of how the accidents occurred.

Research has identified reoccurring accident factors. For example, intersections with two or more lanes in each direction have significantly more pedestrian accidents than intersections where there is only one lane in each direction.  Left turning vehicles are involved in more pedestrian accidents at T intersections than standard X intersections.  Two-way streets have significantly more pedestrian accidents than one-way streets and sun glare is a contributing factor at intersections facing in certain directions and particularly at certain times of the year. Intersections on downhill grades are prone to speeding while intersections on uphill grades are especially prone to sun glare.

Next, mark speed limits on the map noting where speed limits change. Motorists are less likely to obey lower residential and school zone speed limits on roads where the speed limit was higher just before these “slow” zones.  Now locate major walking routes.  It is a good idea to walk these routes and identify issues such as missing or damaged sidewalks, overhanging shrubbery and other hazards that should be corrected.  Look for places where pedestrians have worn a path by the side of the roadway – a telltale sign that sidewalks are needed.

Now place the location of schools on the map and trace the walking routes to schools. Also locate crossing guard stations.  School zones have emerged as a significant pedestrian safety problem.  Forty years ago, 50% of children walked to school.  Today, 46% are driven by parents, 40% ride the school bus and only 14% walk.  School zones are clogged with far more traffic than they were designed to handle.  This is why school officials and parents must be included in the planning of the community’s safety program. Finally, ask for public input from senior citizens and youth organizations.  Where do they congregate and what problems do they experience when walking in the community.

  • Engineering: Armed with this information, study possible engineering solutions. However, remember that traffic engineering is complex and the solutions that are appropriate in one situation may not work in another. Seek professional assistance when designing a pedestrian engineering program.

Pedestrian accidents at intersections can be substantially reduced by the installation of proper signals, signs and street markings. Standard signals are installed primarily for traffic control.  When new signals are being proposed, insist that adequate consideration be given to the pedestrian safety problems in the area. Each type of signal has its advantages and a professional traffic engineer should evaluate their use.

Consideration should also be given to installing center islands in the middle of busy streets so that pedestrians, especially senior citizens, may take two light cycles to finish crossing.

Traffic calming involves physical measures to reduce traffic speed to improve safety and livability. In the U.S., traffic calming was practiced as early as the late 1960s and early 70s in such places as Berkeley, California, Seattle, Washington and Eugene, Oregon.  Properly designed speed tables can reduce accidents by over 40%. A complete discussion of traffic calming can be found on the NJ Safety Institute’s website or at

The classic transit bus related accident involves a pedestrian who crosses the street in front of a stopped bus into the path of a passing car coming from the rear. Too often neither the motorist nor the pedestrian sees each other until it is too late. The NJ Transportation Planning Authority recently published an excellent study addressing bus stop design that can be downloaded from the New Jersey Safety Institute’s web site.  

Because the size of a new building is often limited by the number of parking spaces, developers try to squeeze in as many parking spaces as possible with little thought given to pedestrian circulation. Planning and Zoning Boards must be the first line of defense against this practice. All parking lots should have clearly marked pedestrian routes. Consideration should be given to the use of diagonal parking wherever possible.

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