Can increased warnings reduce pedestrian-vehicle-bicycle crashes?

| October 5, 2012

Emergency vehicles at crash scene

Accidents between vehicles and pedestrians have become an all-too-common scene on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey (via Asbury Park Press).

Despite precautions like crosswalks, cities across the country are seeing increases in collisions between pedestrians, vehicles and bicycles. Officials are desperately trying to find new methods to prevent injuries and save lives on the road.

The causes range from distracted walking and driving – while using hand-held electronic devices to text or listen to music, for example – to cyclists violating traffic laws. While campaigns that outlaw or warn of the dangers of texting while driving have helped, many cities are turning to on-site measures to increase enforcement, awareness and safety.

Safety sign installed at Chicago intersection

Chicago officials have launched a program that includes installing new safety signs at specific intersections (via WBEZ).

Some cities like Chicago are beefing up traditional measures, such as adding crosswalk striping, neighborhood traffic circles and expanded safety zones near schools and parks. These components are part of a plan introduced in September by the Chicago Department of Transportation, in hopes of reducing the 3,000 or so traffic accidents that injure pedestrians in the city every year.

In New Jersey, officials are considering going a slightly more high-tech route, utilizing a method borrowed from railroad crossings. The New Jersey Transit Department recently installed a talking warning sign at crossings that have seen numerous fatalities. If it is successful, the signs could be used on the Garden State Parkway.

As many cities see residents migrating closer to the city center and trading in their cars for bikes, bike lanes have helped ease the number of accidents between drivers and cyclists, but haven’t alleviated contentious interactions between cyclists and pedestrians.

Safety sign for bike and car lanes

In New York, signs are part of an awareness campaign targeting cyclists, motorists and pedestrians (via The Brooklyn Ink).

In New York City, the number of cycling commuters has quadrupled over the past decade, according to the Department of Transportation, and police recently increased the number of citations issued to cyclists, who must follow the same traffic laws as vehicles but often are cited for violations like running red lights.

Several cities in California, however, have confronted a different problem: cyclists injured by vehicles. To minimize the danger for cyclists, certain areas have implemented traffic light systems that essentially give cyclists a head start at busy intersections.

These issues aren’t specific to the U.S.; London is testing a similar traffic light system for cyclists, after seeing a 12 percent increase in injuries and fatalities in 2011.

Whether the interaction is between those walking, biking or driving, the slew of competing lawsuits making their way through the courts illustrates that the issue of fault can be foggy at best, so officials are preaching individual responsibility.

“It’s not just distracted drivers that we’re worried about. People on their cell phones are walking out into intersections getting hit by cars,” said Gabe Klein, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

-A. H. Hirt

Category: Regulations