Today, more people are turning to bicycles and walking for transportation, exercise, and overall environmental awareness. While this is great news for the waistline and the planet, it can be challenging on roadways in areas that haven’t been specifically designed to handle both foot and vehicular traffic.
In 2004 and again in 2011, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) selected Atlanta, Georgia as one of 22 “Pedestrian Safety Focus Cities” across the United States. Unfortunately, this is a dubious distinction, as it means that Atlanta is a city where pedestrian deaths are higher than the national average, at a rate of more than 20 deaths annually.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), if the proportions of fatalities stay the same, “we can expect that one pedestrian will be injured every 8 minutes and one will die every 2 hours in a traffic crash this year”. These are sobering statistics.
Having been selected as a focus city, Atlanta is eligible for pedestrian grants to use for enforcement and education, to make Atlanta safer for everyone. The Georgia Guidebook for Pedestrian Planning was one such educational initiative sponsored by the Georgia Department of Transportation and the FHWA and focuses on strategies for statewide improvements. The Atlanta Region Bicycle Transportation and Pedestrian Walkways (BikePed) Plan to propose specific recommendations for Atlanta-regional shared-use roads and pathways.
New technology is evolving for pedestrians and drivers alike, and overall pedestrian safety improvements employ both. Three examples of newer high-tech solutions are:
- Vehicle-Mounted Cameras – This artificial vision technology uses sensors and software to detect the presence of a pedestrian and alerts the driver, who can then stop or veer away to avoid a collision. In addition to protecting pedestrians, it can also help a driver avoid collisions with other vehicles or objects.
- High-intensity Activated crossWalK (HAWK) – A HAWK is a type of pedestrian crosswalk signal mounted on a mast arm and developed by the city of Tucson, Arizona in the 1990s. More recently known as a Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB), HAWKs make wide, busy streets easier to cross and are used in locations where either space is constrained or foot traffic isn’t heavy enough to warrant the installation of a typical signal. The HAWK is dark when not in use so that vehicular traffic can proceed normally. However, when activated by a pedestrian, it illuminates first to yellow then red to slow and stop traffic so that pedestrians can cross safely. A Safety Effectiveness Study was done in July 2010 and resulted in these signals being installed in other metropolitan areas throughout the country.
- Leading Pedestrian Interval – This safety measure is basically a simple change in the timing of an existing traffic light. A Leading Pedestrian Interval allows enough extra lead time for a pedestrian to substantially enter the crosswalk before the vehicle signal turns green. This helps to ensure that pedestrians are more visible to motorists. An advantage of this technology is that it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to establish.
The Ultimate No-Tech Solution
Despite all the high-tech solutions for safety, there really is no replacement for good old, common sense. Be aware of your surroundings as you walk or ride. Wear reflective gear. Teach children safe walking habits. If you are in a busy area, forgo headphones or your cell phone so you are aware of what’s happening around you.
For more information, visit the NHTSA website, “Everyone is a Pedestrian”. And if you are injured while biking or walking in the metro Atlanta area, talk to attorney Bruce Hagen about your options for compensation for your injuries.