Pedestrian advocates, public health professionals and transportation planners and engineers will gather in Berkeley from Sunday through Tuesday to discuss how to improve pedestrian trip and injury data collection, both to inform pedestrian safety campaigns and influence the targets for walkable communities under California’s SB 375.
The conference, Pedestrians Count!, is being organized by California Walks and will include representatives from a number of advocacy groups, Caltrans, UCSF, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the California Strategic Growth Council.
As California Walks executive director Wendy Alfsen argued, transportation engineers know every last detail about how Americans drive, but they don’t keep good data on pedestrians, beyond how many are killed and injured by cars. Without improving pedestrian data collection, she insisted, pedestrians will continue to be under-served when it comes to federal, state, and local transportation funding.
“Pedestrians are significantly and substantially underrepresented in large part because they’re under-counted. Pedestrian trips for a long time have been seen as pedestrian, ho-hum, invisible,” she said “As we’re moving to a multi-modal transportation system, all of the other modes have to be counted.”
Alfsen said that pedestrian fatalities count for 18 percent of all traffic deaths in California and the state’s fatality rate is 50 percent higher than the national average. “Overall traffic fatalities have been going down, but our percentage of the total in California is growing,” she said.
Creating a vocal and politically motivated constituency of pedestrians has proven difficult, admitted Alfsen, and a large portion of the conference will be dedicated to honing pedestrian advocacy strategies. She said pedestrian advocates needed to do better to mobilize political outrage at injuries and fatalities, much the way bicycle advocates have done throughout the country.
At the conference, she expected to get medical professionals at the same table as transportation engineers, planners and advocates to improve their working relationships, to be more dynamic and more fruitful for all sides. Alfsen noted the advocates are often on the cutting edge of demanding funding for studies the professionals then carry out.
“We are all working for the same thing, the same end, but sometimes we end up appearing to be adversaries,” she said.
Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, the Director of Environmental Health at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and a presenter at the conference, told Streetsblog in a recent interview he expected pedestrians to demand improvements as more people moved back to cities and self identified as walkers, similar to cyclists.
“Where this is going to happen first is places like San Francisco and New York City,” said Bhatia. “It takes a significant constituency of walkers to implement these safe and scientific improvements. If we get more urban living, people are going to start to demand them.”
Registration for the conference can be done online through Saturday at the Pedestrians Count! event website. Walk-in registration is also welcome.