Thursday, December 28, 2017

Delaware set for first place in pedestrian fatalities (again)

By Angela Connolly --

What can we say, about Delaware's consistent ranking among the worst States in the U.S. when it comes to pedestrian fatalities? Unfortunately, 2017 will almost match 2015, when we took the #1 spot per capita -- even beating Florida. Currently at 32 dead, that translates to 3.9 per 100,000 residents, and will likely get us there.

With advocate's help, DelDOT is doing an excellent job when it comes to adding crosswalks, sidewalks, bike lanes, etc whenever possible, on a limited budget, usually during repave and reconstruction projects. But facilities can only do so much; Delaware has an enormous problem when it comes to aggressive and distracted driving. Most use "smart" phones behind the wheel --  and very few drive defensively. Law enforcement is weak to non-existent, mainly throughout the State's unincorporated zones (most of the State's suburbs). Combine that with some pedestrians who are wayward and/or wear "dark clothing" -- as the press loves to point out -- and that's what gives us this horrible distinction.

As most are now aware, the Advisory Council on Walkability and Pedestrian Awareness was created in October 2015 to begin addressing the issue. Unfortunately, little they propose will change anything; their main focus is reigning in careless pedestrian behavior. Without stepping up vehicle law enforcement, too many drivers will continue to speed, act with aggression and intolerance, share attention on the road with their "smart" phone, and fail to account for vulnerable road users. As a result, they see them when it's too late. According to every national study ever conducted on the subject, use of phones while driving is the equivalent of  DWI -- yet even texting is readily dismissed by law enforcement as a societal norm. This gross disparity is where most of the problem lies.

Shortly after its inception, the ACWPA was gifted a historic opportunity to reform Delaware's vehicle code for the purpose of pedestrian safety. On Christmas Eve, 2015, Amy Wilburn (former Chair of the Delaware Bicycle Council) and Frank Warnock sat together at Friendly's Restaurant and crafted language for a Senate bill. They did not re-invent the wheel; they merely borrowed language found in States ranking far higher than Delaware, including those at the top like Massachusetts and Oregon.

For reasons we'll never understand, the Council handed Bike Delaware control of a subcommittee that ultimately quashed any notion of changing the law. Passage of the "Pedestrian Bill", as it was referred to, would have been just the shake-up Delaware needed to put the focus on pedestrian safety and motorist's behavior around them. Instead, they thought it best to go on victim blaming,  and to better accommodate bad driver behavior. Until that changes, we will continue to be the "1st deadliest State" in the nation where walking is concerned.

Finally, DelDOT's stubborn insistence on utilizing the 85th Percentile when setting speed limits is literally killing us. Too often, this method results in highway speeds that are permitted through zones rich in walking and bicycling activity, including residential, retail -- even in front of schools. By assuming that basically 85% are "good drivers", this too is a direct contributor to the problems outlined above.

In the years ahead, let's hope life overtakes the need for speed and saving scant seconds in every trip we take, regardless of transportation mode.

No comments:

Post a Comment