Thursday, May 24, 2012

Death of a Dover Citizen

In many cases I will say pedestrian or cyclist but usually when it comes to a death or injury I try to focus on the fact that they are a citizen, a resident, and mattered to somebody.  Using the the term "pedestrian" or "accident" removes the human element from the situation and everybody can feel better.  An accident is when a wheel comes off, or the brakes fail, or when somebody falls off the curb because of a misstep.  An accident is not when somebody is struck by somebody else and killed due to negligence on any one or both of the somebody's.  Today we have a case that is not an accident but most likely was due to a number of factors.

An older gentleman was struck and killed in a crash today in Dover.  He was killed by another older gentleman driving a pickup while he was attempting to cross the street. Article from Fosters Newspaper on the crash.

I must commend Fosters for not using the term "accident" because this was not an accident (unless it turns out the driver's brakes failed or the gentleman crossing tripped while trying to move out of the way of the truck).  The crash happened at this location:

View Larger Map

Approximately 42 Main Street.
I have created a location mock up in ArcGIS using 2010 1 foot imagery:
As you can see the likely spot of the crash is almost halfway between two crosswalks and is very close to one of the entrances to the older brick buildings in the lower left of the image.  As you can see from my road section mock up the parking area is to the left before the travel lanes.  My best guess based on risk and other typical crashes of this nature was the man killed was partially obscured by parked cars as he attempted to cross the street.

What you don't see here but you can see in Street View is what appears to be old crosswalk markings in the road that go from the building entrance/sidewalk on the left to the sidewalk on the right.  Take a look and tell me that they don't look like a faded crosswalk (which a large majority of crosswalks in Dover are).

In the above image I have marked the official crosswalk in white, but even these are faded and unless you noticed the pedestrian crossing sign you might not know they are there.

You may notice another issue with this road while looking at the cross section.  Look at those lane widths.  16 feet and 15 feet, wowe!  Those are typical widths on freeways with speeds over 50mph.  This is a downtown with an already too high 30mph speed limit that in this section most people exceed by 10+mph.  Also note from the Google Map above that this is a State road and thus even less likely that the speed limit would be reduced or road changes implemented.

Finally if you read the article the man crossing was an older gentleman at 77, however the driver was older still at 84.  Was age a factor?  I would bet so.

We have study after study that shows as drivers get older their reflexes and skills go down, in terms of crashes they are nearly on par with first time drivers.  Why are they still allowed to drive?  Why do we allow them to renew their licence as long as they can see/have a correct glasses prescription?  There is a heck of a lot more to driving than just if they have 20/20 vision.

However, we have built a system of communities that does not provide safe ways for older residents to get around with out a car.  If you live outside of the COAST bus service route you are pretty much out of luck.  Maybe you can walk somewhere, but that means your town has sidewalks by your house to wherever you want to go.  That is unfortunately highly unlikely (Dover does a reasonably good job though).  You have no choice but to continue driving if you want to maintain any sense of independence.  Many families will refuse to take the licence away from a grandparent for fear that that person will hate them or will be unable to go anywhere.  I don't blame them one bit, but what it means is we have older drivers on the road who do not have the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle at the speeds required in an urban/rural setting.

If we provided good bicycle paths, safe and complete sidewalks, and reasonably accessible transit I think many would feel more comfortable about giving up their drivers licence, because at least they still have options to get around.

The exact cause of course is still under investigation and we may never know but a combination of age of the  man driving and age of the victim, the width of the road, the speed limit of the road, the distance between crosswalks, old markings in the road, as well as potential shadow from the building all contributed to this man's untimely death.

You should not have to take your life in your (or somebody else's) hands if you wish to walk downtown.

There are solutions though!

  • Reduce the road width.  Reduce each travel lane to 10 feet, use the additional 9 feet for a buffered bike lane (hey it could even by two-way) and curb bulb-outs (you can see a bulb-out in the lower crosswalk) or sidewalk expansion
  • Remove a travel lane and reduce remaining lane to 10 feet.  Use space created to expand sidewalks on both sides, plant trees, and provide a buffered bike lane, along with curb bulb-out, and provide better transit stops
  • Reduce speed to 15-20mph.  This is a downtown, not a freeway.  The goal in a downtown is to slow auto traffic down so people can park and visit shops safely without worrying if they will get run over by a semi doing 45.  This can be done by pavement changes, raised crossings, and will naturally happen if the lanes are narrowed.
  • Better marking of pedestrian crossings.  It is not all about the drivers, sometimes a bit of signage in the form of bright white thermoplastic crossings can help folks walking find a safe crossing place.  Increase the number of crossings too.  People will not walk out of their way by very much before they jay-walk wherever they see fit, increase the crossings and this risk is reduced.
  • Make drivers over 65/70 do a motor response test at various speeds in addition to eye tests and update on current laws.
  • Restrictions on mobile devices through an engine lock type feature and/or hefty fines.
  • Provide more rigorous drivers ed training with regard to interactions in the urban environment.  Looking at the red light/stop sign or for traffic in the other lane is not all that is required.  Bicyclists, kids, pedestrians, buses are all interacting in the urban environment.  Learners must interact with these things as part of their learning process.  The Dutch traffic gardens are a perfect example of this type of education.
With a little bit of work and dedication and perhaps even some push back against "the State DOT knows best" we can make our urban environments safer and prevent deaths like this from happening.

Condolences to his family.  His death should not have happened like this.

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