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| Paulson & Nace

Cars should not be the only concern for cyclists and pedestrians—in crowded urban areas, these two non-motorized ways of getting around town could pose an all-too-real risk to each other. Case in point: on March 9th at Franklin Square in Washington, D.C. a woman was leaving work at Kiplinger magazine just as she had done for close to 40 years. But this evening, as she went to cross the street to the Metro Center station, she was struck by a cyclist who failed to stop for a red light, hit her head in the fall and subsequently died from her injuries the next day.

The rider of the bike was charged with disobeying a traffic device and issued a citation. While police state that the investigation is still ongoing, this most likely will be viewed simply as an unfortunate turn of events that led to a tragic end. But the fact of the matter is that this was a  clear infraction of traffic laws that resulted in a death. If the individual had been behind the wheel of a car, ran a light at speed and then mortally struck down a pedestrian, the view on culpability could be very different. But the purpose here isn’t to try and assign blame, only to better understand how something like this could happen—and what we can do as a community to prevent it from happening again.

Recently, I explored the topic of how pedestrian “un-friendly” some communities can be in America. According to a study that evaluated and quantified the level of risk most pedestrians face while walking, neighborhoods populated by individuals most apt to walk were actually the most dangerous with very little in the way of pedestrian safety measures. Entitled, Dangerous by Design, the study looked at data for an almost 10-year period across 100 of the top U.S. metropolitan areas and ultimately argued for many of the features advocated in the gaining ground “complete streets” approach to planning communities.

Unfortunately for many areas in the U.S., the numbers show that we’re not doing enough to prevent pedestrian accidents and fatalities. In the Washington D.C. area alone, data has shown a recent increase in pedestrian deaths by as much as 12 percent per year—a trend that is being echoed across the Nation. To draw attention to such growing figures, the D.C. police conducted a sting operation of sorts last year in the Metro area. Setting up near a downtown crosswalk, plain clothes officers proceeded to cross when signaled while watching for drivers who did not stop—thereby violating the law in Washington D.C. that states drivers must stop whenever a pedestrian is in the crosswalk.

While such efforts are positive, one must wonder if they’re addressing the true issue at hand when it comes to sharing our roadways. Are distractions the problem? These impair drivers and pedestrians alike. Is it reckless behavior? Bicyclists are often just as guilty of this as automobile drivers. Or is it something bigger than all these things combined? Could it be that modern society simply needs an attitude adjustment—one where we are more careful with our actions, where we watch out for others, and ultimately we take some level of responsibility for the safety and welfare of those around us.

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