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Pedestrian Activists Confront Streets That Are ‘Dangerous By Design’


Aired 5/25/11

A national movement that's taken hold in San Diego is trying to make the streets safer.

Clairemont Mesa Blvd. is like a lot of San Diego streets. It's seven to eight lanes wide, full of thick, fast-moving traffic. It's the kind of street where pedestrian deaths can line up like soldiers. And early Monday morning it happened on this street. Police say a pedestrian was killed by a drunk driver.

It's the kind of news that troubled Bertha Torres, who had to cross the boulevard later than morning to get from her bus stop to a branch of the county courthouse. She said it's like crossing a freeway.

Crosswalks and other traffic-calming features have made Allison Avenue in La ...
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Above: Crosswalks and other traffic-calming features have made Allison Avenue in La Mesa a good example of promoting pedestrian safety. May 24, 2011.

"You gotta walk fast. It is dangerous, especially if you're walking with your kids. I've seen a lot of ladies running across this street, and some of the cars just… ‘shroom!’" said Torres.

Her story is familiar to anyone who walks in San Diego, and it confirms the many findings of a study by a group called Transportation for America. The study, Dangerous by Design, looked at the 52 largest metro areas and ranked them based on pedestrian safety.

Spokesman David Goldberg said San Diego ranked about average based on some safety yardsticks. In others, the city looked bad. Pedestrians in San Diego made up a very large proportion of the city's total traffic deaths: 22 percent compared the national average of 12 percent.

Goldberg said the problem here, and elsewhere, is large, multi-lane streets that are built to move cars as quickly as possible.

"There are a lot of people out there, people who need to cross them,” he said. “People that need to walk along them, that are catching a bus, that are walking to or from a shop, and they're getting killed."

People looking for solutions have rallied around a concept called "Complete Streets." Monday, the group Walk San Diego spoke about the national study near La Mesa's public library, on a street that's being held as a good example for traffic calming and pedestrian safety.

Jim Stone, executive director of Walk San Diego, said crosswalks, signs, and narrowing of streets are a few of the things you can do to make streets safer.

"At a corner we can put in something called a bulb-out,” he adds. “That puts the pedestrian more in sight of the driver so the driver sees a pedestrian. It also shortens the length that the pedestrian has to go as they cross the streets."

Kathleen Ferrier is also with Walk San Diego and she's the author of a set of recommendations for street design called "Safe for All." She said statistics of pedestrian deaths don't tell the whole story of San Diego's car-oriented design.

"The statistics don't show that the number of pedestrians and bicyclists aren't even there. They're too afraid to go out into the street because of these high volumes of cars,” said Ferrier.

Bike and pedestrian safety is no abstraction to me. Four years ago I ended up in the hospital trauma ward after being struck by a car while riding my bike. It happened on Montezuma Road, definitely one of those high-speed corridors.

Transforming San Diego into a bike-friendly and walk-friendly region is a huge effort that's seeks to reverse decades of urban planning. San Diego's Regional Transportation Plan, put forward by planners at SANDAG, does call for $2.6 billioN, to be spent on bike and walking transportation over the next 40 years.

That's a lot of crosswalks, bike lanes and bulb-outs.

Meantime Jerome, a man waiting for a bus on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, had some advice for drivers.

"Be careful drivers. You got to stay focused and be alert!" he said.

And remember that “complete streets” have not just cars, but also bikes and people traveling afoot.

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Avatar for user 'brixsy'

brixsy | May 25, 2011 at 7:38 a.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Agree 100%, we need more bike and walk-friendly streets, maybe with separate bike-paths like Germany. How fun would that make short commutes? With a climate like CAs, it's a crime not to be able to bike out in the sun.

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Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | May 25, 2011 at 8:27 a.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm not too impressed by pedestrians who get hit while jaywalking ... which is what I see every day on El Cajon Blvd. They dash out between cars... I'm not surprised there are accidents; I'm surprised there aren't more. Then we have drivers who still text and chat on their cell phones and are completely oblivious to their surroundings. This week I have seen, more than once, people texting while driving and not stopping at stop signs or red lights. In fact, running red lights has become a real sport around here. I've even seen people stop at the red light, and then go through it as if it was some talent to scare oncoming traffic or the rare pedestrian actually trying to cross in a crosswalk. Is getting to the coffee shop that important to take someone's life? Is it that tweet or Facebook update important enough to risk your life for? I don't care how many bike and walk-friendly areas you long as people think safety rules are for someone else and not for them, there will be accidents.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | May 25, 2011 at 11:19 a.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Segregating bike traffic on bike paths is a nice concept. But short of a huge investment in new infrastructure, bikes and cars will simply have to learn to share the road. And in San Diego, urban planning and topography have forced a tremendous amount of traffic onto big, arterial roads where bikers just don't stand a chance. Making this place bike and walk friendly will be a huge challenge that will require not years but generations to resolve.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | May 25, 2011 at 12:16 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Do drivers need to drive with care? Absolutely.

Do pedestrians and bikers need to pay more attention when crossing the street? Absoultely.

We've all seen pedestrians jaywalk (all of us do it), and some purposely trying to beat the light as though it's a game. Most recently we saw on the news a woman pushing her child on a cart get run over by an SUV. Fortunately the child was okay (she cleared the undercarriage), and equally fortunate the incident was caught on tape and the cited driver was released because the mother endangered herself and her child.

This type of carelessness is a two-way street. Drivers are the problem, pedestrians are the problem, bikers are the problem. Even motorcyclists put themselves in danger when they whiz in and out of traffic. It's laughable when I see the Amber Alert sign that reads, SHARE THE ROAD. LOOK TWICE FOR MOTORCYCLISTS.


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Avatar for user 'bgulino'

bgulino | May 25, 2011 at 2:18 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Tom, I remember listening to your radio show several months back when you had this nice lady from Caltrans on. She spoke cheerfully about how she felt that more bicyclists on the road would increase drivers awareness of them and that motorists would begin to slow down.

I thought to myself, "she is talking to a guy who was out there, 'increasing awareness', and he wound up in the trauma ward with a head injury."

If we want to make the streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, and its by no means clear to me that that's what we want, we need to do a lot more than just paint signs and increase awareness.

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Avatar for user 'MarkW'

MarkW | May 25, 2011 at 6:03 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago


We live in the most beautiful, temperate climate in the U.S. -- and the sad fact is we can hardly bike or walk anywhere! So much for living in "paradise".

We've grown lazy and accustomed to curb-side convenience just about everywhere we go. I'm really hoping $8.00/gal gas will make us stop and reconsider our ways.

Here are some simple ideas:

- add dedicated bike "commuter" lanes running parallel to I-805 and I-15
- add rumble-reflectors to the bike lane line so that something more than a thin strip of paint is protecting bikers from vehicles
- make major work hubs bike accessible: sorrento valley / mission valley / etc.
- beef up mass transit so it actually *works*: smaller buses run more frequently, etc.

A few simple, practical ideas.

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Avatar for user 'dboyle101'

dboyle101 | May 25, 2011 at 6:21 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Share the road. That means everyone. Lately - in the last 18 months or so - I have seen more pedestrians and especially bicyclists challenge car drivers, the curbs, and red lights. I suspect that most bicycle “drivers” don’t even know they are subject to the same driving rules as everyone else on the street. And pedestrians should be ticketed for starting out after the white “walk” light is gone.

But of course we can’t rely only on the police to manage this (although these tickets would be a great revenue source). We need to identify these people as excessive risk takers.

Consider this. The minute a pedestrian jay walks; or a bicycle rider fails to stop at a stop sign (or rides on the sidewalk to avoid it); or a car driver picks up his phone; right then that individual’s auto and/or health insurance is cancelled. If there is an accident, that person is not covered and is on his own. Worse, if a policeman tickets such a car driver, the ticket also includes illegally driving without insurance. Of course if nothing happens, if there is no accident or police action, then the insurance cancellation is not effective. But should such cancellation be executed by an event, that person will have to apply for new insurance through the assigned risk pool at much greater cost.

In other words, we can’t leave compliance up to enforcing officers. There should be some natural consequences of risky behavior – and fear of those consequences – to help us attend to our own behavior.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | May 30, 2011 at 6:17 p.m. ― 5 years, 9 months ago

Streets are built for automobiles. Why do you think they invented asphalt and gasoline? It's the way it's always been. Dang pinko liberals want to clog the streets with people on bikes or walking. You wanna walk, buy an exercise machine. This STILL is the U.S. OF A.!!!

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