Street Redesign Could be Key to Reducing Pedestrian Fatalities

Officials look to Sweden’s Vision Zero plan for inspiration.

Street RedesignOn January 10, 2014, 9-year-old Cooper Stock and his father stepped into a New York City crosswalk. They had done it thousands of times before. Cooper knew to hold his father’s hand, to wait for the walk sign, and to look both ways. Cooper and his father did everything right, but on that night they were struck by a cab turning left across the intersection. Cooper was killed and his father seriously injured.

The cab driver claimed that he too was doing everything right, but simply did not see the father and son in the crosswalk. However, it is obvious that he broke the law in failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk and therefore was responsible for the accident. Unfortunately, in New York drivers are not charged with a crime in a pedestrian accident unless they broke two or more traffic laws. In this case the driver was only cited for failure to yield and will pay a $300 fine. In California, the driver would have been subject to harsher penalties including possible vehicular manslaughter charges.

Some say that instead of focusing on penalties for accidents we should be focusing on uncovering and addressing the root cause of those accidents, which they would say is poor street layout and traffic design. Experts believe the example set by Sweden’s Vision Zero plan could serve as very useful inspiration.

Since committing to the goal of zero pedestrian fatalities in the entire country, Sweden has implemented a variety of measures that together have succeeded in lowering their annual pedestrian fatality rate to 2.7 per 100,000, which is much improved over the average of 6 per 100,000 in the EU and 10 per 100,000 in the US.

Some possible improvements that would make it harder for motorists to “accidentally” hit a pedestrian include:

  • Reducing speed limits—for every 10 percent increase in vehicle speed, a pedestrian’s risk of death increases 40 percent.
  • Requiring a green arrow for all left hand turns—left hand turns are 3 times more likely to result in a fatal accident than right hand turns.
  • Narrowing arterial roads by requiring a shared turning lane or adding bike lanes—wide arterial roads account for only 15 percent of NYC streets but 60 percent of serious pedestrian accidents, and narrowing roads has reduced serious accidents by 30 percent in Sweden.
  • Raised curbs, dividers, or crosswalks that cause drivers to perceive a narrower street and therefore proceed slowly when turning
  • Pedestrian bridges or flashing lights on crosswalks—thought to have cut pedestrian deaths in half in Sweden in 5 years.

It is important to note that in Swedish cities like Stockholm, the overall number of pedestrian accidents has remained about the same. The difference is that because cars are moving more slowly due to the changed street and traffic design, fewer people are seriously hurt.

Efforts to adopt Vision Zero type improvements in America have floundered, in part because of the high cost of redesigning miles of city streets, but also in part because America is simply not Sweden. We would rather hold individuals responsible for their actions when they break traffic rules and cause accidents than blame the system for supposedly giving them an opportunity to make a mistake.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a pedestrian accident and you would like help holding the negligent or reckless driver responsible, contact The Law Offices of Fernando D. Vargas now.

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