WHAT TO DO—THE RASH OF WALKER INJURIES AND FATALITIES IN VERMONT URBAN AREAS
The Vermont AARP office this year continues to work with Brattleboro and others on the recent rash of walker fatalities and serious injuries which leads to the following thoughts....
Burlington, Rutland and Brattleboro all seek answers to a sudden apparent increase of serious walker injuries and fatalities in their community. In one week this year in Burlington a walker was killed and another seriously injured at busy signalized intersections. Rutland deaths occurred south Main Street and Brattleboro deaths and injuries occurred in various contexts.
There are no common clearly common elements. The Brattleboro walker crashes involved mostly drivers 50 or over with most of those involved off sidewalks. Both Burlington crashes occurred with the walker on a marked crosswalk. A fatality this week involved a young driver who careened at high speed in a parking lot, hitting two cars, then a teen-aged worker killing her in front of the store she was employed as she left at the end of her shift. Note the Federal Highway Administration figure for a fatality based on “value of life” research is (2009 $) $6.1 million and for an injury, $126,000. These figures include lost wages, family economic impacts, etc. A AAA study last fall using this data along with crash statistics and metropolitan congestion costs found, overall, the costs from injuries and fatalities, i.e., safety, were more than double the costs of congestion in larger metro areas and greater than congestion in all metro areas.
First and foremost, a key problem in the U. S. and Vermont comes in the form of a lack of comprehensive, programmed in all phases (education, engineering and enforcement) and readily accessible in document all can see: a highway safety program. The French integrated and comprehensive program reviewed annually for performance came about as a necessity to address human carnage on the streets and highways.
With that understanding at a minimum engineering, i.e., street infrastructure, can be examined in Vermont for providing the safest—though still not satisfactory overall safety—street environment for walkers.
For walkers only two basic safety infrastructure measures exist for streets and intersections-sidewalks along street segments and roundabouts at the intersections. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) posts on its website that sidewalks cut walker injuries and fatalities by 88% and several studies indicate that on average single lane roundabouts (and mini ones too) cut walker injuries and fatalities by about a similar amount. Not other infrastructure treatments attain the performance of sidewalks along street segments or roundabouts at intersections in terms of walker safety. It is no surprise, then, that France leads the world in the number of roundabouts (over 30,000) and that with about 12,000 “roundabout years” under our belts in the U.S. and Canada not a single walker fatality has occurred—and in France only about one walker fatal occurs per 15,000 roundabouts (or “roundabout years”). As the number of roundabouts increased in 1993 in France from 10,000 to 24,000 in 2003, the number of walker fatalities remained constant, about two, where it remains today. The presence of more roundabouts alone appeared to have significant impact on improving the safety of existing roundabouts, i.e., the more roundabout you install the lower the walker fatality rate at roundabout intersections.
Interestingly, Brattleboro was the first town in the U.S. and Canada where an entire corridor was evaluated for roundabout conversion and it probably shares with Keene, NH the title of the first downtown area with all its key busy intersections evaluated for roundabouts. The 1994 Brattleboro study evaluated all intersections from the now Keene Turn Roundabout (built in 1999) to the north on Putney Road to the shopping center area south of the town on US 5. A troika of roundabouts was sketched in the 1994 study where the one-way circular traffic continues through and around the municipal complex at the north end of the commercial downtown. A roundabout almost went forward at the complex intersection adjacent and over the Wellstone Brook where the greatest congestion occurs, exacerbated as traffic backs up and through during rail crossing activation less than a 100 yards to the east.
A fatal near the intersection of Strongs Avenue and South Main Street which occurred late last year is about a block from a busy intersection with a McDonalds on the southeast corner—an intersection where a roundabout was suggested by some about a decade ago, a roundabout which might have traffic calmed the area of Strongs and South Main which itself continues to be a good candidate for a roundabout. Overall, about 95% of busy Vermont intersections can be converted to roundabouts—and moving into a comprehensive, prioritized conversion program certainly must be the keystone to any comprehensive approach to dealing with the problem of walker safety.
Getting back to Brattleboro, the central area can be examined seriously for roundabout (“normal” and “minis”) to improve safety for walkers and car occupants, reduce congestion, traffic calm, reduce air pollution. One fatality occurred along Canal Street. The use of a simple median to cross near the Transit Center in line with the walker bridge crossing might improve safety and access at the mid point of the “level” part of the street. A “median diverter” which forces a movement of vehicles from a straight path at the median would add traffic calming to the median treatment.
On Western Avenue in Brattleboro, busy VT 9, roundabouts at the I 91 interchange would improve safety and access for walkers. Other significant intersections along sidewalked road segments also could be evaluated for roundabouts.
In view of the lack of State and Federal commitment to comprehensive highway safety—similar to the lack of action one might point to in another area, climate change—then a “do it yourself” “town comprehensive street safety plan” with emphasis on walking and bicycle modes could be undertaken. These local plans would continue to face lack of state and federal lagging in the areas of law, enforcement and education, but a local plan could heavily influence highway investments in a particular community and with cooperative efforts with other region towns at regional planning commissions impact regional highway expenditure—including funding local safety plans!