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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Pedestrian safety campaign sticks to basics: Look both ways

UPDATED: Mon., June 24, 2019

A new pedestrian safety campaign called Look Both Ways has painted its message on the sidewalk along Browne Street on the east side of downtown Spokane at intersections that have been especially problematic with high collision volumes and many people out walking. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A new pedestrian safety campaign called Look Both Ways has painted its message on the sidewalk along Browne Street on the east side of downtown Spokane at intersections that have been especially problematic with high collision volumes and many people out walking. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

For the second year running, the number of pedestrians killed on American roads jumped, dragging the U.S. back in time when it comes to roadway safety.

According to the latest collision statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission released last week, pedestrian deaths caused by a collision with a vehicle increased by 4% in 2018, an addition of 2,000 people to the annual death toll compared with a decade ago. The number of cyclists killed by car increased by even a bigger proportion, at 10%.

But who is to blame when a pedestrian is killed crossing the street?

Each situation, of course, has its own particulars. But like all hot takes in our simple-minded times, the camps form quickly. One side blames the walker, the “zombie pedestrians” gazing and swiping at their phones as they mindlessly step into the road. The other blames the motorists, ensconced in their SUVs and paying more mind to their phone than the 4,000-pound machine at their command.

A better question is: How can we make our roads safer?

The Spokane Target Zero Task Force thinks it has a solution in its new Look Both Ways campaign. The work has begun on downtown’s Browne Street, where the sidewalk implores people, in a stencil-painted word, to “Look!”

The campaign is intended to “encourage safe behaviors in both drivers and people walking. If you’re walking or driving, you should pay attention to your surroundings and look both ways before crossing any intersection,” according to a news release.

The task force and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission will monitor the installations for success going forward, so we’ll see if people look.

Implicit within the campaign, however, is that safety is a pedestrian’s responsibility, letting motorists off the hook. How can a driver see the word “Look” on the sidewalk from behind the wheel? They can’t, and if they’re looking that hard at the pavement of the sidewalk, woe be to whatever or whoever is in front of them.

Yes, pedestrians need to do their part to be safe, if just for their own self-preservation. But as Angie Schmitt at StreetsBlog USA points out, pedestrians alone shouldn’t be blamed for the 6,227 pedestrian fatalities in 2018, a number not seen since 1990.

Schmitt reiterates what’s long been discussed: Our roads are designed for traffic flow, not pedestrian safety. Most pedestrian fatalities occur in the middle of the street on high-speed arterials – suggesting a desperate dash across the street rather than an absent-minded stroll while scanning social media.

What’s more, many fatalities occur at night, and many of those killed are elderly, low-income people.

Beyond all of this, it is difficult to separate the rise of the smartphone from the increase in deaths. The low point in pedestrian fatalities was recorded in 2009, when 4,109 people died. The iPhone was introduced in 2007, and the first Android device, the HTC Dream, was released in September 2008. Since then, pedestrian fatalities have ticked ever upward.

But are walkers solely to blame? Do yourself a favor and stand at the busiest intersection you know. Count how many people are looking at their phones while driving. You’ll probably be shocked, and a bit wary to cross the street.

Short of redesigning our roads to slow traffic down in pedestrian-heavy areas – like the city has attempted to do on East Sprague Avenue and North Monroe Street – or doing away with cars altogether in places where people go, probably the only thing we can do is look both ways. That goes for motorists and pedestrians alike.

Andrew’s Crossing

Way out on the city’s frontier – 57th Avenue – Spokane County has made a step toward safety with the installation of seven crosswalks between Perry and Ferrall streets.

One of the crosswalks is called Andrew’s Crossing, and is dedicated to Andrew Vathis, who worked as a clerk at Albertson’s for 26 years. Vathis was struck and killed by a motorist driving an SUV in January while he crossed 57th at Hailee Lane after work.

Though the safety improvements were planned before Vathis’ death, it was a stark reminder of the dangerous conditions on the road, which sees more than 13,000 vehicles a day, according to the county’s most recent collision data available, from 2014.

Though the changes are small, they’ve made a big difference to the wide, three-lane road. Each crosswalk has a pedestrian refuge island, allowing walkers to make it halfway across the street and pause. The painted crosswalks, islands and signs act to calm traffic and slow drivers down.

School’s out, slow down

Pedestrians aren’t just adults. School’s out and children are streaming to the city’s parks, pools and libraries. The city’s street department installed 20 mph speed limit signs at eight locations to remind motorists to drive slowly.

These seasonal speed limit signs are at the following places: A.M. Cannon Park, Audubon Park, Chief Garry Park, Comstock Park, Hays Park, Lincoln Park, Mission Park and Shadle Park.

Lime patrols: no sidewalk riding

Starting today, Lime is starting “Lime patrols” to remind scooter users to walk the vehicles on downtown sidewalks. The patrol will consist of Lime employees in green shirts telling people, “Walk Your Wheels on Downtown Sidewalks.”

This patrol coincides with efforts by the city to improve signage in downtown reminding users of city rules barring sidewalk riding.

In the city

East Sprague Avenue continues to see major impacts, as the city rebuilds the major road just beyond the city core. The street is closed between Scott and Grant as crews reconstruct the roadway, build new sidewalks, and install water, sewer and stormwater utilities. First Avenue is the detour route, and motorists should be aware of the temporary stop signs.

Motorists on Second and Third avenues east of the city center continue to see impacts related to the installation of stormwater pipes. Third from Hatch to Arthur and Second from the Hamilton overpass to Perry are constricted. Arthur from Third to Second remains closed.

In the Valley

University Road from 16th Avenue to Dishman Mica Road is getting grind and overlay maintenance, and University will be closed to through-traffic during construction, which will be complete this summer.

The Midilome area is seeing similar work until Aug. 23. The street preservation work will improve streets from 34th to 37th avenues between Bates Road and Loretta Drive.

Evergreen Road is getting grind and overlay maintenance from Mission Connector to Indiana Avenue. The work will bring new pedestrian ramps and bike lanes. Lanes are reduced from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the road is closed the rest of the days from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Motorists should take Pines or Sullivan instead.

Argonne continues to see work, as crews install asphalt overlay between Broadway and Mission avenues. Lanes will be closed, but at least one lane of Argonne will remain open at all times.

Work to reconstruct and widen Barker Road from Euclid to the Barker grade separation continues. The road remains closed to through traffic.

Hamilton overpass

Work on the Hamilton overpass to westbound Interstate 90 continues, and is anticipated to be complete in late July. Crews have finished hydromilling the bridge deck, and are currently replacing rebar and pouring new concrete on the bridge deck.

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