Saturday, September 26, 2015

Burlington's (VT) Walk Crash Record--When did the Canary Stop Singing?

The recent revelation in the Burlington Walk Bike Master Plan process, planBTV Walk Bike, of the “dirty 17” Burlington intersections with nearly one walker crash per year average for 2011-2014 brings to mind the silence of a canary signifying dangerous gas buildup in a coal mine. When did the canary stop signaling here?

A little arithmetic translates the four years of data, 61 intersection-related walk crashes, to 150 injured pedestrians for the decade plus 2.5 fatalities. Burlington recorded one fatality on a crosswalk in 2011 and another walker died in a crash on the Sheraton/Staples crosswalk just beyond the City boundary in So. Burlington last fall. The 150 estimated injuries suffered by those on foot for the decade equals about one per hundred City households.

The 150 injured pedestrians estimate applies to only the “dirty 17” intersections—many more occur yearly at other City intersections.

Burlington prides itself in being “pedestrian friendly” and certainly the Marketplace precinct and Bikepath deserve that raring.. But for residents who must ply the other streets of City including those needed to access the Marketplace and other key destinations—City Market, Fletcher Free Library, and neighborhood stores, for examples—conditions remain less than friendly.

Since speed remains the primary factor in frequency of walk mode crashes and injury severity, a real reduction in speeds at the “dirty 17” and other City intersections must be the first and foremost way to reduce injuries and fatality to those who move on foot. Education and enforcement cannot overcome the speed factor, safe infrastructure comes first. The one and only treatment which reduces the existing rate of walk mode injuries about 90% at intersections is the single lane roundabout. It does the same for walk safety at intersections as does installing a sidewalk along street sections, also a walk mode reducer of injuries by about 90%.

Most of the “dirty 17” intersections can be converted to roundabouts (American Association of Retired Persons [AARP] advocates converting signals to roundabouts for reducing senior driving fatalities). The U.S. dropping from first to 19th in safety among nations in significant part can be explained by its failure to rapidly adopt roundabout technology. There are other traffic calming measures which can be used to reduce speeds—medians which divert the vehicle straight path, raised crosswalks, speed humps/bumps, and similar measures. Measures which do little to diminish speeds—signs, flashing lights and pavement markings.

What if” the “dirty 17” were converted to roundabouts, what would the the likely result? Well, instead of 61 injuries per year at the 17 intersections, the number would be six and those injuries less severe on average. Fatalities? Instead of 2.5 per decade estimated above, the number would drop to one every four decades!

The American Automobile Association (AAA) in a study found the costs of injuries were far higher than congestion costs in metropolitan areas. The Federal Highway Administration uses dollar figures to estimate the cost of a highway crash injury--$126,000 in 2009 and a separate figure for a fatality “Value of a Statistical Life” (fancy way to say value of your life) which in the most recent policy ranges between $5.2 and $12.9 million. The life value is taken from a number of economic studies. AAA used the high value in their metropolitan congestion versus vehicle crash costs analysis.
Taking the $126,000 per walker injured and $12.9 million for a pedestrian fatality and applying that to the estimated 150 walker injuries for the decade and 2.5 walk fatalities for Burlington this decade provides a sense of the dimension of the cost of pedestrian crashes at the “dirty 17” Burlington intersections 2010-2020: $44.7 million total.

What Burlington needs to concentrate on are “safe” streets. Then there remains the subject of bicycles crashes in the City...

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