Monday, September 23, 2019

Debunking the myth of "distracted walking"

A pedestrian crossed Plymouth Road at a RRFB, photo by Erich Z. 

At the July 29th Pedestrian Safety meeting at City Hall, several people made statements that went along these lines:

Drivers bear some responsibility for pedestrian safety. Pedestrians also bear responsibility. Distracted driving and distracted walking are contributing to crashes and as a community, we need to address both these issues.
To be clear, I am paraphrasing, but there were several people who spoke who brought forth the specter of distracted walking. Intuitively, this argument didn't quite sit right with me. My general thought process was something like what follows. A fast-moving pedestrian is six times slower than a slow-moving car. If you are reading a book or looking at your phone while walking, it is easy to detect changes in your environment by glancing up and using your peripheral vision. Human reaction time is generally sufficient to deal with most scenarios we encounter while walking, even when we are distracted. On the other hand, in a car, your audio and visual perception is limited and you are traveling much more quickly. It does not seem like distracted walking would be a significant contributor to the problem of drivers striking pedestrians with their automobiles.

After that meeting though, I didn't think much of the issue of distracted walking. That is, until this weekend when I found a recent New York City Department of Transportation (NYDOT) report investigating the phenomenon of distracted walking. Here's the full report. Here is a quote from the first page: In short, despite growing concerns, DOT found little concrete evidence that device-induced distracted walking contributes significantly to pedestrian fatalities and injuries. The emphasis comes from the report, gentle readers. Here's a great table from the report that looks at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data from 2010 - 2015.

You can see that pedestrians using electronic devices are implicated in a vanishingly small fraction of crashes that result in pedestrian fatalities nationally. NYDOT also looked at data from New York City and found a similar pattern:

Records show two cases (0.2%) in which there was electronic device involvement, of 856 with available narratives. One pedestrian fatality in 2015 involved a pedestrian who was texting, and one fatality in 2014 involved a person reaching for a dropped mobile device. This lack of reported pedestrian device involvement is notable, as the crash reports rely largely on drivers’ accounts. In comparison, from 2014-2017, there were 112 pedestrian fatalities where vehicles failed to yield to pedestrians with the right of way (13%).
As for pedestrian injury, NHTSA data estimate that pedestrian use of electronic devices plays a slightly larger role in car crashes that result in pedestrian injury, than in crashes that result in pedestrian fatality. Depending on the year, somewhere between 2% and 4% of crashes that injure pedestrians implicated pedestrian use of electronic devices. This is still a very small percentage of the total number of car crashes where pedestrians are injured.

"Distracted walking" is not a thing. By that I mean it is not a phenomenon that contributes to a large number of instances where drivers strike pedestrians with their automobiles. I want to take this a step further and say that in matters of pedestrian safety, the responsibility for making sure all parties arrive to their destination needs to be apportioned proportionately to each party's ability to cause harm. A person driving a 3300 lb car 25 mph can do much more harm to a 180 lb pedestrian walking a brisk 3.5 mph, than that pedestrian can do to that driver. Distracted driving is a cause of crashes that injure and kill pedestrians. "Distracted walking" does not contribute to a meaningful proportion of pedestrian fatalities or injuries. It would be irresponsible for us to take pedestrian use of electronic devices into account in Ann Arbor's current push towards zero pedestrian fatalities. Instead we should focus on proven measures that increase pedestrian safety including slowing cars down and making sure all streets have sidewalks on both sides.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Fall River Day this Sunday in Ypsi

This Sunday is Fall River Day in Ypsilanti. From noon to 3 pm there will be tons of great activities in Riverside Park including: games, nature activities, donuts, and birds of prey! There will also be kayak rental available at Frog Island Park thanks to a partnership with Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation and Washtenaw County. This gives you the ability to experience a portion of the river that is generally not available to people without their own boats. I have it on good authority there will be more kayaks available than in years past, but I would still recommend getting to Frog Island early if you have your heart set on renting a kayak. In the past the rentals have been very popular and there has been a bit of a wait for those that did not arrive early.

As a commissioner on the Ypsilanti City Parks and Recreation Commission, I have worked at the last two Fall River Days. I am biased, but they are a great early fall activity. If you haven't been to Ypsi in a minute, you should stop by and make an afternoon of it. You can also check out the brand new barrier free play structure in Riverside Park.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: September 16, 2019

Gentle readers, it's time for the second #a2council meeting of September. Here's the agenda. Let's dive in!

On the consent agenda we have a couple of street closings. One for this Friday's Climate Strike and another for the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. There is also a contract for police body cameras, and adoption of a brownfield policy.

There are 4 public hearings on two developments. PH-1 and PH-2 are on 325 E Summit. PH-3 and PH-4 are on the Glen development.

C-1 and C-2 are ordinance readings that deal with regulations for cannabis retailers. DS-1 is the Traverwood road reconfiguration I have mentioned in previous council previews.

There you have my very incomplete preview. Gentle reader, what are you most agenda items are you most interested in? The event starts tonight at 7. Tune in to CTN or watch the YouTube stream.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: September 3, 2019

The 7.7 acre parcel at 2857 Packard is the site of a proposed PUD (Agenda item C-1).

Gentle readers, tonight is a special Tuesday edition of #a2council. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with 21 item consent agenda with no road closings. CA-19 is the Lower Town Mobility Study. This will authorize the city to spend just under $600,000 to study mobility in the area of the confluence of Pontiac Trail, Broadway, Plymouth Road, Moore Street, Wall Street, and Maiden Lane.

Elsewhere on the agenda there are two public hearings. PH-1/B-1 is the second reading of the proposed ordinance change that would allow restaurants in office zoned properties. PH-2/B-2 is the second reading of an ordinance that would change some of the rules for mixed use developments.

C-1 is the first reading of an ordinance for a PUD at 2857 Packard. The 7.7 acre parcel is currently zoned R1E and is largely undeveloped. If I recall correctly a previous proposal for the site did not pass muster so it will be interesting to see what happens with the new proposal.

Finally, tonight #a2council will be revisiting two road reconfigurations. DS-2 and DS-3 are on the Traverwood and Green Road reconfigurations, respectively. We have covered road diets previously.

The event starts tonight at 7. Tune in to CTN or watch the YouTube stream.