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All numbers from Smart Growth America's "Dangerous By Design 2014."

How the Albany metro area ranks for pedestrian deaths -- and ways it could be safer

dangerous_by_design_2014_Capital_Region_pedestrian_fatality_map.jpg

A clip from an interactive map posted as part of the report. You can pick a point and the map will report nearby pedestrian deaths over a given time period.

There were 88 pedestrian deaths in the Albany metro area between 2003-2012, according to a recent report from the org Smart Growth America. The Albany metro area's rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people was 1.06, which ranked in the lower middle of metro areas in New York State.

A handful of bits from the report -- which details some of factors in pedestrian deaths, and calls for changes in how roads are designed -- are after the jump.

New York compared to the rest of the country

New York State has a higher pedestrian death rate than the national average (1.61 per 100,000 vs. 1.56), according to the "Dangerous By Design" report. But using a measure that tries to take into account how many people are actually walking the state fares better, ranking 39th.

The rates of pedestrian death vary greatly from county to county. We've rolled a clickable New York State county map from the report's data -- it's above in large format, click or scroll all the way up.

Speed

One of the highlighted factors in the report are speed limits:

Vehicle speed is a major factor in all types of crashes, and has especially serious consequences for people on foot. Where the posted speed limit was recorded, 41.1 percent of pedestrian fatalities in New York were on roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or higher, compared to 0.3 percent on streets with a speed limit of 30 mph or under. Nationally, 61.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities were on roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or higher and 9.0 percent were on streets with a 30 mph or under speed limit.

The situation in the Capital Region followed this trend, with not a single pedestrian death on a road with a speed limit under 30 mph between 2003-2012.

By the way, a quirk about New York State: local municipalities aren't allowed to set their own speed limits. The state legislature must OK changes. There's a push to change that setup.

What to do?

The report uses the data to set up a call for changing the way streets are designed (p 29). A clip:

Generally, designing for safe, walkable communities begins with understanding how people use--and want to use--streets and public spaces to access destinations. From there flow general considerations such as separate people walking from people driving vehicles; keep traffic speeds low; ensure all sidewalks and curb ramps are accessible to people with disabilities; and clarify where each road user should be expected to travel. With these principles set, transportation planners and engineers can select from a large set of nationally used appropriate design elements, including but not limited to: wide sidewalks; curb extensions; refuge islands; pedestrian countdown signals; leading pedestrian interval signal timing; midblock crossings (especially at transit stops); pedestrian hybrid beacons; narrow travel lanes; planting street trees; restricted right turns on red lights; compact intersections; back-in angled parking and smaller curb radii.

A local example of a push to change a thoroughfare with the intent of being more pedestrian and bike friendly: the Madison Ave "road diet" in Albany.

What's this org?

Because it's always good to know a little bit about the org behind a report: Smart Growth America describes itself as "the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring better development to more communities nationwide. From providing more sidewalks to ensuring more homes are built near public transportation or that productive farms remain a part of our communities, smart growth helps make sure people across the nation can live in great neighborhoods."

Comments

There is also the factor of the reckless abandon with which pedestrians throw themselves into the street. I'm talking about the jaywalker problem. It is terrifying to be behind the wheel of a car and have someone just dart out into the street, not at a cross walk and then give you the death stare for almost hitting them. There is only so much I can do.

I find driving through Troy in late August-early September to be a white knuckled adventure with all of the new students who apparently never learned how to cross a road. They should teach this at orientation.

I think the fact that every story about pedestrian safety results in comments blaming the pedestrians for their lack of safety is an obstacle in and of itself. Thank you, CAOD, for not disappointing. For the record, as a frequent jaywalker myself, the only times I've almost been hit were while crossing legally.

My favorite pedestrians are the ones that walk with their back to traffic down the road, as if it were a walkway... Or the people who just slowly amble across decently busy streets like Central. I really don't get it. I just don't.

@JayK - Agreed. I'd just like to add: "blame anyone but yourself."

I'm a planning student, so I'm supposed to only be sympathetic to pedestrians. Let me say this, though: I've lived all over the country, and in a couple of places internationally, and both the pedestrians and drivers here in the Capital District are among the worst-behaved I've ever seen. It's very clear from the rampant red light running, (usually unnecessary) double parking, and dearth of signal use that enforcement of the rules of the road is nearly nonexistent. At the same time, pedestrian behavior, especially on Central, is atrocious, and I'm shocked more people don't die there.

There are design factors that can be addressed--it seems like many of the arterials in Albany are under capacity, which invites people to go fast, so road diets may be in order. But it seems like there needs to be a concerted effort to get people (both drivers and pedestrians) to, ya know, not risk death every time they go outside. Also, red light cameras. There should be virtually no debate about this. In Chicago, where entitled suburban drivers claimed that cameras were just a cash grab, returns have actually declined since the cameras were installed. Why? Because they're doing their job. Most of the opposition to the cameras comes from drivers who are used to being able to break the law with impunity and want to continue to do so at the expense of everyone else's quality of life.

So you can stand at a marked crosswalk, the kind with a big sign in the middle that says "STATE LAW: STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS CROSSING," all day long. You could be waving your arms and doing jumping jacks, but absolutely nothing will cause drivers in Albany or elsewhere in New York to give you a break, let alone obey the law. I've waited many minutes for the opportunity to not die crossing Pearl Street.

OR, you just just throw yourself into traffic and take your chances, because those chances are EXACTLY THE SAME as when you cross at a crosswalk.

So what would a rational person do? Waste time waiting for drivers on their cell phones to pay attention to the signage around them, or just cross the darn street?

@Sandy--the problem with red light cameras is that there is a very solid argument that they violate due process. The vehicle registrant is ticketed, rather than the driver committing the violation and there is no certifiable witness to the alleged violation.

@JayK and Carl--take a gander at VTL 1151 (subsection (b) is of interest) and 1152 which neatly indicate who has the right of way when it comes to crosswalks.

"VTL 1151 (b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield."

Maybe once, I've seen it be "impractical for the driver to yield." I'm not exactly condoning this behavior - it's annoying as hell and makes all pedestrians look bad - but simply being realistic about it. Like Carl said, the drivers will show you the same disrespect whether you cross legally or illegally. Sandy is also spot-on about the effect of the freeway-like conditions of our arterials.

Again, in a crosswalk, with the right of way, is the only time I've ever personally encountered a problem, and I estimate that I cross the street illegally at least 3-4 times per day.

"VTL 1152 (a) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway."

This is what I almost always see happening. The problem (and the reason it looks so sketchy) is often these pedestrians are yielding to half the street's traffic while standing on the yellow line.

Better street design (also suggested by the blog post itself), better traffic enforcement and more respectful drivers would help this problem immensely.

Has anyone driven down Central Ave lately? Crosswalks are there, yet no one uses them.

For instance, I went to lunch yesterday, and on my return, I was stuck at a light by Westgate Plaza. A woman, talking on her cell phone, literally was weaving through traffic without paying attention.

People don't realize how they jeopardize everyone elses safety when they do things like this. Yes, I do think Capital Region drivers should be more aware of people walking, when they're in a sidewalk or crosswalk. But why is it automatically the drivers fault when someone is illegally walking across a busy road without paying attention, and they accidentally get hit?

There's a lot to be done here.

CAOD: Driving more slowly is a good choice. Stay at 20 mph and you have very low odds of killing anyone. http://humantransport.org/sidewalks/SpeedKills.htm

JayK and Carl can place blame on the driver all day long, but I challenge them on a busy summer day to pull up a lawn chair outside CVS on Central Ave between Lexington and Robin. You know, the 'intersection' which isn't an intersection. There is no cross street, just a crosswalk and a button that STOPS ALL TRAFFIC (via red light). Count how many pedestrians on that block use the button and cross at the crosswalk. Then count how many pedestrians walk aimlessly into rush hour traffic, stand in the middle of the street on the yellow lines, or walk with their back to traffic down the middle of the lane (like Andy pointed out). While you're there, count how many bikers are doing the same stuff - riding at oncoming traffic down the middle of a lane, playing frogger with traffic, etc.

Traffic calming methods only go so far when both the drivers and pedestrians and bicyclists are free to do whatever they want with no fear of getting ticketed. I'm sure in other parts of the city, the drivers are more at fault (for example, in Washington Park, it seems like only 1 in 10 drivers understand the 'yield to pedestrians crossing at a marked crosswalk' law despite the signs) but then you have areas like Central Ave that are treated like the wild west and your argument becomes invalid.

I think part of the problem is that so few people have experience interacting with the transportation system environment as a pedestrian and have no idea what its actually like to get from point A to point B for commuting, doctor's appointments and other non-recreational journeys. Sure, there are crosswalks on Central Avenue but they are easily .25 - .5 miles apart from each other and when you use the crosswalk you nearly get hit half the time anyway.

Let's say you take the bus from your home in downtown Albany to your job at State Farm on Central Ave near Pine Ave. You get out of work at 5pm and need to pick up your kid at daycare before 5:45 or you pay an extra $20 for each 15 minutes you are late, plus you need to get home and feed your kid dinner and get them to bed and get ready for the next day. When you step out the door at 5pm, the 355 bus is stopped at, or is approaching, the Central & Birch stop almost across the street from your office. Your choices are to walk/run all the way down to Red Fox Drive and wait for the signal to cross in the crosswalk (and the crosswalk is on the far side of the intersection) or you walk/run up to Vly Rd to do the same. Chances are you will miss your bus and then have to wait another 15-20 minutes for the next bus. What would you do?

The problem is design and drivers' attitudes, not pedestrians.

@Sandy I agree with EVERYTHING you posted. Drivers and pedestrians are atrocious here in the Capital District. I arrived 13 years ago to find drivers double-parked on almost every major block in Albany when there were clearly parking spaces perhaps a half block away. This problem seems to have gotten worse, not better, in the last decade and a half. Drivers see yellow lights as a reason to speed up rather than slow down - yellow light running is so rampant in the Cap District I am singled out as weird by friends for slowing down when a light turns yellow. Slow drivers routinely clog the left lane on streets like Central Ave where flow would be helped immensely if slow drivers kept to the right and used the left lane only for passing (it is rage inducing to see two people puttering along, 5 miles below the speed limit and next to each other on major roads like Central or Western).

As for pedestrians, I second all the craziness people have witnessed: people on Central Ave with a seeming death wish, crossing at random, against the light and in front of traffic. The same on major thoroughfares in Troy and Schenectady... I don't understand why people choose to do that, but it is clearly part of pedestrian culture in the Cap Region and is both dangerous and obnoxious, and must be changed either structurally or via cultural education.

" But why is it automatically the drivers fault when someone is illegally walking across a busy road without paying attention, and they accidentally get hit?"

Because, Melissa, operating a multi-ton machine makes you vastly more responsible for what happens than someone who is not. If you can't safely avoid unexpected events, you shouldn't be driving.

Listen, drivers, I get that it's annoying when someone does something that's not quite legal AND makes you move your foot all the way to the left pedal for 1-3 whole seconds. But it's almost never truly dangerous, and in pretty much every case, you have plenty of time to move that foot. And if it's really that much of an emotional trauma for you, you'd do much more by advocating for better road design. Then again, that, by its very nature, will also slow you down.

I write this as both a driver and frequent pedestrian. As a pedestrian, I am horrified at how many times I have been at or in the middle of a cross walk and a driver just goes through the stop signs (including at a four-way, four-stop sign intersection). I have to do my best to make eye contact with the driver who is approaching the stop sign as I am half way through the cross walk to make sure s/he does not hit me as I legally cross. I have often been flipped off when I (again, legally in the cross walk) stare at the driver who decided not to stop.

As a driver, it boils my blood to see someone cross a busy roadway without even looking to see if cars are coming (this includes coming out between two parked cars, giving the driver VERY little time to see and react), as if they are invincible and more important than the safety of those surrounding them. It is not just pedestrians' safety that is at risk when someone decides to cross in the middle of a very busy street...what about the alert, cautious driver whostill has to swerve or slam on their brake to avoid hitting someone who darted in between cars at the last minute, causing a rear end accident? It's one thing to jay walk when there is light traffic and there is a significant enough opening in the road to get across. It is quite another to step off the curb with the attitude that if someone hits you, well, at least they're paying for it.

What about pedestrians vs bicyclists?! I've never seen so many adults riding on the sidewalk!!! Please stop!!!!!!

Drivers drive across the crosswalks so pedestrians can't use them. They are supposed to wait for the light to change behind the crosswalk not sitting across it. This is especially tough when it is a cobbled street and you are 76 with rheumatoid arthritis and a car is parked directly across the easy uncobbled crosswalk you are supposed to be able to cross on.

@Sarah Rain--if I am obeying the traffic laws, including driving at the posted speed limit, I'm supposed to modify my lawful behavior further? If I was going 25 in a 30, there would be a line of cars behind me simmering in road rage that would then begin darting around me, and probably making it a check of a lot more dangerous for pedestrians.

@JayK--pedestrian location, drivers obeying traffic control devices, etc. make a huge impact on liability in excess of no-fault and it would behoove every pedestrian to use the dang crosswalk whether it is 100 feet or 1/2 mile from where you need to cross. It has less to do with being annoying and more to do with being dangerous. The only behavior I can control is my own and I make every effort to literally obey speed limits, make complete stops and yeah, generally avoid pedestrians. Pedestrians should make the same effort to avoid my car and have an easier job in that they do not have to control a 1/2 ton object. The attitude of pedestrian privilege stinks on this topic.

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