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To Reduce Pedestrian Fatalities, Focus Enforcement on Cars

Today the issue of pedestrian safety has popped up a couple of times on the Streetsblog Network. First, the folks at WalkBike Jersey report that a bill giving pedestrians more protection in the crosswalk has passed the State Assembly and is moving to committee in the Senate:

2592590374_3239f9c206.jpgPhoto by tomswift46 via Fickr.

Under the bill, motorists would be required to stop and remain stopped at a crosswalk while pedestrians pass through the driver’s lane of traffic, even if a light changes to give the motorist the right of way.

A1329's Primary Sponsor -- Assemblywoman Linda Stender has been a champion of pedestrian safety over the years. “The number of pedestrian deaths in our state has been increasing instead of decreasing despite our best efforts in recent years,” said Stender (D-Union), vice chairwoman of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee. “This measure will clearly give pedestrians the right of way so that school children and people on foot can safely walk to their destinations.”

The Assembly passed the bill, which simply seems to represent common sense, unanimously. If it becomes law, it will be interesting to see if it is enforced or used by prosecutors. But in a state where the latest figures show a recent surge in pedestrian deaths, any move to increase legal protections for those traveling on foot is welcome.

In Savannah, as we wrote a couple of weeks ago, the police have been reacting differently after a high-profile case in which a tourist was killed by a car. They've decided to focus enforcement on jaywalkers. As Sustainable Savannah reports, the flurry of jaywalking tickets has caused a backlash because of the high fines they carry, but the underlying problem with the strategy is much more profound:

Unfortunately, I see a critical question that’s not been answered: Is jaywalking enforcement the best way to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths?

In yesterday’s Savannah Morning News, Alderman Tony Thomas said while the fines are too high, “We have to change the culture of pedestrians and bike riders. Those safety issues have got to be altered.” Meanwhile, WTOC-TV reports, “Chief Berkow isn’t pulling any punches as he stands by what he calls strictly ‘a safety measure.’”

In reviewing pedestrian safety literature published by state, federal and municipal agencies, many references to enforcement can be found. In the vast majority of reports, studies and guidelines that I’ve seen, motorists are the recommended focus of enforcement efforts. If the goal of the “jaywalking crackdown” is public safety, why are we pursuing a course of action that appears at odds with best practice models? Are we blaming the victim, as Connect Savannah’s Jim Morekis suggests?

Downtown business owner Ruel Joyner told WTOC, “It’s not the jaywalking ticket itself. It’s the sentiment under it. That’s not the signal we should be sending when we are the number one walking city in the nation.” And, “We need to be as inviting as we can and look out for the good of downtown.”

There's real potential for the next transportation bill to include provisions for "complete streets" that would address, from a federal policy perspective, the idea that streets need to serve all users -- not just cars. The Complete Streets Blog, newly online from the National Complete Streets Coalition, has word of a briefing in Washington this morning on the subject. We'll be following them for news on that front.