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Pedestrian safety: A view from the streets of Providence and beyond

This post is republished from the Coalition for Transportation Choices (CTC). The CTC calls for a 21st century transportation system that enhances our economy and provides all Rhode Islanders with healthy transportation choices. Grow Smart RI is a member of the Coalition.

The explosion in popularity of the automobile in the last 50 years has shifted the focus of street design from pedestrian traffic to automobile traffic. Today, auto traffic often travels at speeds that are dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists. Above speeds of 30-40 mph, the risk of serious injury or death is very high. This means that neighborhood streets are no longer safe for children to play in and communities to utilize.

Thirteen people in Rhode Island died in 2011, that’s up from 2010. Pedestrian fatalities account for a disproportionate number of overall traffic fatalities, comprising approximately 12.1% of all traffic fatalities.

This is part one of a two part series on pedestrian safety. Our guest author, Greg Gerritt, can be seen walking around Providence everyday. Greg is a long time community, environment, and justice activist with an active practice, focused on how to heal the RI economy.

I walked to and from work everyday, about 6 miles total in Providence. I have business all over the city and regularly walk 12 miles a day on the city’s streets. I have walked in every neighborhood of Providence but regularly walk to business anywhere between Downtown Pawtucket, Olneyville, and Pawtuxet Village.

I grew up in New York City in a family that did not have a car, so from a very early age I traveled much of the city by using public transportation and by walking. After 20 years as one of the great hitchhikers in America, including 15 years of commuting to work by hitchhiking, I moved to Providence and became a full time walker.

My years on the streets have taught me what cars do. I have learned to be very aware. But I have also developed a willingness to stand up for pedestrian rights, and try to remind both drivers and pedestrians that if everyone followed the traffic laws and used common sense, it would make it much safer for all.

In some ways the situation is desperate, pedestrians get killed every year in Rhode island, and most often in a cross walk. We need serious pedestrian education from a very early age on how to travel safely. How to account for flow, how to travel with awareness, what to look for, how light cycles work, all kinds of things that I have learned on my own, because in places like New York City, this behavior is more a part of pedestrian culture.

Paying attention to lights, knowing how stop signs and cross walks work, the very basic stuff, seems to be almost beyond the ken of most Rhode Islanders. Pedestrians just start walking without even looking at whatever random location they find them self.

Drivers could use an education, too. Cars routinely ignore cross walks, whizzing through, while randomly stopping in the middle of a block for a pedestrian who would be much safer if the cars just continued, and they were able to pick their own time and place to cross the street.

Tests that showed Massachusetts and Rhode Island drivers among the least knowledgeable in the nation. Texting while driving, for example, has become an epidemic everywhere, making pedestrian safety even more tenuous. Just another thing to distract drivers from driving.

With the continued deterioration of the climate and the economy, more people will be walking more. Since there is no money for the infrastructure upgrades, we need to improve walking safety. The will for the pedestrian education in the 21st century needs to go beyond safety, with pedestrian and bicycle safety at its heart.

Ten safety tips for Walkers at AARP.

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