Making Houston Safer for Pedestrians

by Terry Bryant

Pedestrian deaths and injuries from car accidents continue to increase in cities throughout the country, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Police data confirms that Houston is no exception.

As is typical in many cities, infrastructure and streets were built to prioritize cars, not walkers, bicyclists, and others. In some neighborhoods, wide intersections that consist of multiple traffic lanes make it treacherous to cross on foot, especially when crossings don’t allow walkers enough time to get across the street before traffic lights change. In other neighborhoods, sidewalks are uplifted by tree roots or, worse yet, are nonexistent, which forces pedestrians to walk in the streets in dangerous proximity to traffic.

There are ways to improve city streets and help stem the tide of crashes between motor vehicles and pedestrians. City planners and engineering experts are looking at different ways to do so. One basic idea is through increased education, so both drivers and pedestrians understand who has the right of way in specific traffic situations. Greening the city with trees that act as barriers to cars is another idea. Obviously, making improvements to and adding sidewalks in places they don’t exist is another step toward increased safety.

New real estate developments have the opportunity to design walkability into their infrastructure. In fact, the city is looking at implementing rules for new developments that take into account the needs of their specific neighborhoods. Likewise, making infrastructure improvements when streets and neighborhoods are being rebuilt is also necessary to save lives.

A major area of concern when it comes to pedestrians and traffic safety is intersection design. There are some simple but very effective ideas that can be implemented to enhance safety.  One is to give pedestrians a car-free space by modifying signals to allow enough time to get across streets or out of the way of turning cars. No-right-turn-on-red signs and signals would also help prevent accidents.

Many deaths and injuries to pedestrians are caused by unprotected left turns, because drivers are focused on oncoming traffic instead of people in crosswalks. Simply adding left turn arrows would make it clear to both pedestrians and drivers who has the right of way in these intersections, and potentially save lives and reduce injuries.  Other features that should be put in place include raised crossings and intersections that are more easily seen by drivers and can serve to slow them down. Some creative ways that cities are making crosswalks stand out to drivers, and thus slowing them down, are with bright colors or vibrant crosswalk paintings.  Santa Monica, California, features a sunrise and sunset scene on one of its intersections.

Another creative crossing that has been used in some other cities, including New York, San Diego, and Baltimore, is called the Barnes Dance, or sometimes the pedestrian scramble. Named for a traffic engineer named Henry Barnes, the system looks like a giant X in the middle of intersections. It stops traffic in all directions and pedestrians can cross to all four corners, in straight lines or on a diagonal.

By implementing simple, practical, and creative ideas, Houston and other cities can improve pedestrian safety and end the upward swing in deaths and injuries.

If you’ve been injured in a car-on-pedestrian accident, you should know that you have legal options. We have helped clients across Texas get the compensation they deserve from negligent drivers. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.