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The car-free city and other innovative solutions for pedestrian safety

Posting in Cities
 
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Until the day when all cars are driverless, the interaction between cars and pedestrians in the urban environment will be an issue. 

In the United States, as the total number of traffic fatalities fell nearly 25 percent, from 43,005 in 2002 to 32,367 in 2011, according to statistics [pdf] from the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released late last year, the number of pedestrian deaths, as a percentage of all traffic fatalities, have been steadily rising from 11 percent in 2002 to 14 percent in 2011.

From San Jose to Las Vegas to New York City, 2013 was one of the deadliest years for pedestrians in years. As NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, said last year: "We continue to see high rates of pedestrian fatalities in major cities and across every demographic."

Globally it's not much better with around 270,000 pedestrians traffic deaths each year and pedestrians accounting for 22 percent of the 1.24 million annual road traffic deaths. 

But cities are beginning to take innovative approaches to increase pedestrian safety.

Brussels, one of Europe's most congested cities [pdf], is considering taking a radical approach to pedestrian safety. Building on the idea of pedestrian plazas used in cities from New York to Copenhagen, Brussels' new mayor Yvan Mayeur  is proposing a plan that would turn the city center into a car-free zone that Feargus O'Sullivan, writing for The Atlantic Cities, says would turn "Brussels’ core into a spacious, rambling open-air living room." The city has already experimented with car-free days but, as the new mayor said, this move would "completely change the city," a move that 60 percent of respondents of a recent survey support

In San Francisco, architects have designed a crosswalk that represents a new take on the humble curb and ultimately aims to make roads safer for walking. The design, by Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects, uses raised curbs that extend into the street and provide a buffer between cars and pedestrians and help remind drivers that there could be pedestrians present. And, by adding gardens and benches, the infrastructure could serve a larger community purpose.  

As Zoe Prillinger of Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects, explained: "We also realized that if it is built along a series of intersections, this everyday infrastructural element could sponsor an extended network that unified the street experience for pedestrians, created green connections to local parks and gave meaning and expression to the local community."

It's not just cities making pedestrian safety a priority. One of the main culprits in pedestrian fatalities, the car, could also be one of the solutions. Volvo has become a leader in pedestrian safety with the release of technology that uses radar and cameras to scan the road for pedestrians (and bikes). If a pedestrian steps out in front of the car, it automatically applies the brakes to avoid a collision. But in case of a collision, Volvo is also prepared by rolling out cars with external airbags for pedestrians to reduce head injuries. 

But not all solutions to pedestrian safety have to be innovative. The biggest steps that the World Health Organization suggests,  in a pedestrian study last year, that cities make to increase pedestrian safety are straightforward enough and include:

-Adopting and enforcing new and existing laws to reduce speeding, curb drinking and driving, decrease mobile phone use and other forms of distracted driving;
-Putting in place infrastructure which separates pedestrians from other traffic (sidewalks, raised crosswalks, overpasses, underpasses, refuge islands and raised medians), lowers vehicle speeds (speed bumps, rumble strips and chicanes) and improves roadway lighting.
Still, these types of changes aren't happening fast enough.

"More than 5000 pedestrians are killed on the world’s roads each week. This is because their needs have been neglected for decades, often in favor of motorized transport," said Etienne Krug, WHO Director of the Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. "We need to rethink the way we organize our transport systems to make walking safe and save pedestrian lives."

Photo: Flickr/mugley

— By on January 13, 2014, 9:13 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure