Safer Crosswalks

Most cities in the US are not built to support active transportation. A few of our largest cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, and even Seattle have made big pushes in recent years to be more bike and pedestrian friendly but still most leave a lot to to be desired.

Establishing effective active transportation will obviously vary by city but one sentiment is universal – and that’s the safety of pedestrians and cyclists is of the utmost importance. As a cyclist in Seattle I have had numerous close calls, that is to say I have either been clipped or nearly hit by cars turning in front of me, not noticing I was there.

Perfecting the interaction between pedestrians/cyclists and motor vehicles is a tall order. For now, I would like to focus on one specific interaction and that is at intersections with traffic signals and crosswalks. At the vast majority of intersections, the walk signal is turned on for the pedestrians crossing in the same direction that traffic is flowing; this is done to minimize vehicle to pedestrian/cyclist interaction. And this works wonderfully except for when the vehicles are turning.

Some safety measures are already being taken to protect pedestrians. Such things include: allowing them to start crossing before giving cars their green light, adding textures to crosswalks, or elevating them to get motorists to slow down. (In the US, the latter two features are not common on major highways because granting drivers a faster, smoother ride is considered more important.) While all of these are good steps in the right direction, holding drivers accountable for stopping for pedestrians remains a problem.

I suggest that at intersections with a lot of vehicle and pedestrian/cyclist traffic, sensors and cameras be added to alert drivers of pedestrians/cyclists. The sensors and cameras would serve two distinct purposes. Most roads already have electromagnetic sensors in the pavement two detect cars at lights. I think that adding a similar system that can detect approaching cyclists and inform drivers to look out for them would reduce the number of these accidents. Adding a sensor for pedestrians is even easier. Most intersections already require pedestrians to press a button before crossing. Adding a function that alerts drivers to the pedestrians will be easy.

The cameras are to hold motorists accountable. Similar to red light running cameras, these would snap a picture of car’s license plates if they run through an intersection with pedestrians/cyclists. The sensors and cameras would need to work together to determine if in fact a turning vehicle is endangering pedestrians/cyclists.

A system such as this would obviously come at a cost to the city but it comes with the benefit of improving the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.


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