Sunday, October 10, 2010

Witnesses: Teen crossing Aloma struck by 2 vehicles, killed

Orlando Sentinel – Oct. 10, 2010.

Read the full article about 17 year old Kasön Bailey’s death here.

This is the second pedestrian death at this location since a crosswalk was installed in early 2008.  This accident is particularly upsetting to me since I advocated for the crosswalk knowing there was high pedestrian activity there and a high probability of accidents.  Obviously much more needs to be done.

The accident location is midway between the Forsyth and Palmetto intersections, both of which have signalized pedestrian crosswalks.  The distance between these two intersections is 2/3 mile, and this location has high pedestrian activity because there are apartments on one side of Aloma, and businesses on the other.  Strip shopping centers and a RaceTrac convenience store attract local residents day and night.  The crosswalk is not signalized and is unlighted, although there are occasional street lights and light from businesses along the street.

At this point I don’t know if the victim was in the crosswalk or not.  But regardless of whether or not he was, it is painfully obvious that pedestrians are not being adequately protected in this area and further steps need to be taken.  There are three areas in general that need to be addressed in order for pedestrians to be able to walk and cross streets safely:

  1. A sea change needs to happen to motorists’ perception of the pedestrian’s right to the roadway.
  2. Adequate pedestrian safety infrastructure needs to be approved, funded, designed and constructed.
  3. Pedestrians must be educated on the proper use of pedestrian infrastructure and exercise of their rights to use the roadways.
The accident at hand was probably precipitated by too little of each of the above being present. 

Motorists’ Perception of Pedestrian Rights:
Aided and abetted by the automotive industry and transportation officials, motorists have mistakenly gotten the impression that the streets and roads are for them only, and people on bikes or walking need to just stay out of their way.  Transportation officials reinforce this notion by providing all manner of restrictions on the movement of bicyclists and pedestrians to the point where motorists are led to believe they will have adequate notice or warning if one of these interlopers is on the road.  Otherwise it’s fine to maintain the speed limit and do any of the myriad other things people do while driving these days.  This attitude has led to dangerous inattention and frequently reckless driving for conditions on the part of motorists.  The motorist thinks, “If there’s anything I need to slow down for or be aware of, a sign or flashing light will tell me.”

Public officials also reinforce this notion by failing to enforce existing traffic laws designed to protect pedestrians.  There is virtually no enforcement of pedestrian crosswalks where motorists are required to yield.

The laws protecting the pedestrian are inadequate.  In accident after accident involving a motorist hitting a pedestrian, the motorist gets off Scot free, most of the time without so much as a ticket.  This entire section of the traffic code needs to be addressed to remedy this imbalance.

This perception of complete ownership of the road unless otherwise notified has to change.  It isn’t the case and never has been the case but it’s going to take a lot of re-education to change.

Adequate Pedestrian Infrastructure:
Not only do we need many more marked crosswalks where there are none today, those crosswalks need to be lighted and have user-activated beacon markers.  The Aloma crosswalk is a good example of an inadequate response to an accident risk situation.  The crosswalk is beautifully designed and signs erected just as specified in the latest FDOT documents, but it doesn’t do an adequate job of protecting pedestrians.  The only time I’ve seen a motorist yield to a pedestrian is if traffic is backed up and moving at a crawl.  If traffic is moving normally, pedestrians are ignored.  Once that pattern is established, then it is aberrant behavior to stop for a pedestrian, and no one does it.  Since yielding is not required, motorists cease to look for and see pedestrians getting ready or waiting to cross.

There are many innovative new devices and designs that will help protect pedestrians.  They need to be thoroughly researched and the promising ones implemented as soon as practical.  Public officials need to approve funding for these initiatives and give them a higher priority than road projects such as widening to six lanes which increase the risk to pedestrians.

Pedestrian Education on Infrastructure use and Proper Exercise of Rights:
Too often I hear that pedestrians disobey traffic laws and put themselves at risk.  If they obeyed the laws and used signalized crosswalks say these critics, accidents wouldn’t happen.  The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the reason the pedestrian is out there trying to use the streets in the first place:  They NEED to use the streets to get where they’re going.  And to do that they are going to take the shortest, most convenient way even if it involves some risk.  Traffic planners and designers must acknowledge this basic fact and design our roadways accordingly.  And people’s perceptions of pedestrians as outlaws putting themselves at risk must change to encompass this principal.  No pedestrian is deliberately putting themselves at risk of injury or death by choice.  They are just trying to get from point A to point B.

That said, there are areas where pedestrians can be instructed in safe use of existing infrastructure with some benefits to be gained.  Particularly with school age children, safety skills can and should be taught.

However, the most important thing that pedestrians need to learn is the proper exercise of their rights as pedestrians.  Unfortunately, this skill has been mainly taken away by the relentless attack on these pedestrian rights by transportation industry and public officials.

Using the Aloma crosswalk, I will illustrate how regaining this skill can radically change things.

What if, immediately after the opening of the Aloma crosswalk while the signs are new and fresh in motorists’ minds, pedestrians wanting to use the crosswalk got motorists’ attention by placing one foot into the roadway and waiving their arm at the motorist?  When the motorist slowed, the pedestrian advanced carefully into the crosswalk forcing the motorist to slow and stop.  The pedestrian would then do the same thing in the next lane, which would be easier because one car in the adjacent lane had already stopped.  Motorists behind the lead vehicles would observe that cars were stopped to allow pedestrians to cross.  The next time those motorists in line came to the crosswalk they would expect to stop for pedestrians and look to see if there were any coming.  If this scenario is repeated time after time, motorists would adopt the habit of looking for and yielding to pedestrians.  All this because the pedestrians that have the right to use the crosswalk and have motorists yield to them exercised that right.

If a super majority of the pedestrians that use this crosswalk had been schooled in proper exercise of their rights before starting to use the crosswalk, the preceding scenario would have happened and the crosswalk would become a valuable safety feature.

Unfortunately, what happened was that pedestrians saw the traffic speeding by, were reluctant to enter the crosswalk and so waited patiently until it cleared.  The motorists saw the pedestrians waiting for them so they continued on their way.  Eventually the motorists came to ignore the crosswalk and any waiting pedestrians altogether, thus virtually negating the crosswalk’s effectiveness.  A corollary effect of this is that pedestrians observe that using the crosswalk doesn’t buy them any additional time or convenience, so they resume their patterns of crossing where convenient.  After all, it takes exactly the same amount of time, less if the crosswalk is out of their way.

Pedestrians can be taught the proper exercise of their rights again.  We can import instructors from Manhattan.  We’ll just have to make sure they know beating on motorists’ hoods is not permissible behavior in our more placid Greater Orlando metro area.

Over the next several days I hope to learn more about the accident that killed 17 year old Kasön Bailey.  I’ll report any new information I find that impacts pedestrian safety in general.  In the meantime I hope you’ll continue to fight for the rights of bicyclists and pedestrians to share our area streets and roads safely.