High Rate of Pedestrian Fatalities Plagues Arizona

By José-Ignacio Castañeda

Despite efforts to decrease the number of pedestrian fatalities in Arizona, the death toll continues to rise due to pedestrian disregard and an increase of midblock crossings.

A sign in downtown Phoenix warns drivers about potential pedestrians crossing.

Arizona has more pedestrian fatalities per capita than any state, according to a study released by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. The report shows that Arizona has a pedestrian fatality rate of 1.61 deaths per 100,000 people.

Alberto Gutier, the director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, says that preliminary numbers indicate that there have been more than 140 pedestrian deaths in Arizona this year.

According to the report, Arizona’s rate of pedestrian fatalities is approximately double the national average rate of 0.81. The study covers preliminary data collected from the first half of 2017. In the previous 2016 report, Arizona ranked third with a rate of 1.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Phoenix Police Department and the City of Phoenix Street Transportation Department have set forth an initiative that focuses on decreasing the rate of pedestrian deaths in Arizona.

Traffic in downtown Scottsdale builds up during a red light.

Despite the installment of midblock crossing signals, the problem of pedestrian fatalities continues to plague Phoenix. The disregard of the new crossing signals and other safety measures by pedestrians may be causing the continuing rise of pedestrian deaths.

Meanwhile, increased education and enforcement initiatives by the Police Department are trying to make drivers and pedestrians more aware of their surroundings when they are using the road.

“This is obviously an alarming issue and it’s cause for concern,” said Sergeant Vince Lewis, public information officer for the Phoenix Police Department.

Alongside the Police Department and other Phoenix transportation officials, Lewis utilizes what is called the three “E’s” to combat the rising rate of pedestrian fatalities. These three “E’s” are engineering, education and enforcement.

The Police Department mostly oversees the education and enforcement aspects of the initiative, while officials from the Phoenix Street Transportation Department focus on the engineering aspect. Monica Hernandez, public information officer for the City of Phoenix Street Transportation

A sign in downtown Phoenix that flashes with lights when a pedestrian presses a button to cross.

Department, described how the city tries to adapt existing streets to the safety needs of pedestrians.

“We’re evolving and repurposing some of our existing streets,” said Hernandez. “In some areas we’ve removed traffic lanes, we’ve made sidewalks wider and created a very pedestrian friendly environment.”

As a part of the engineering element of the initiative, the transportation department has installed pedestrian traffic signals. These signals are also known as High Intensity Activated CrossWalKs (HAWK). There are currently 40 HAWK signals in place around Phoenix. Phoenix began installing HAWK signals in 2007 after they were approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

“At midblock locations, where it doesn’t make sense to install a full-blown traffic signal, we are installing pedestrian traffic signals that are activated when a pedestrian pushes a button,” said Hernandez.

Despite efforts by the transportation department, the rate of pedestrian deaths in Arizona continues to increase. When asked about this, Gutier attributed it to pedestrian disregard for crosswalks and an increase in midblock crossings.

“We see more and more people crossing midblock and not paying attention to the light. Instead of walking 100 or 200 feet to the corner, they cross midblock,” said Gutier. “What we’ve

A truck drives past a crosswalk in Scottsdale.

seen is a lot of people ignoring the rules of crossing the street.”

Midblock crossings play a large role in the high rate of pedestrian deaths in Arizona. Jessica Cicchino, senior vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, discussed the consequences of midblock crossings.

“Most pedestrian crashes in general happen at intersections, but most of the deaths happen midblock,” said Cicchino.

Cicchino said that the increase in deaths at midblock crossings can be linked to drivers not expecting to see pedestrians and because of increased speeds. Cicchino also connected the continued increase of pedestrian deaths with a lack of pedestrian walking data.

“One of the things that makes it difficult to know why fatalities have increased is that we don’t have information on how much and where pedestrians are walking,” said Cicchino. “That’s something that could possibly be contributing to the increase of fatalities.”

On the flip side of the three “E’s” initiative, the Police Department has made some progress by incorporating education and enforcement into one single approach that focuses on reducing the rate of pedestrian fatalities.

“The Phoenix Police Department has had actual conversations with pedestrians and drivers while also issuing them a ticket,” said Gutier. “The purpose is not to issue a ticket; the purpose is to make sure that the public is aware about pedestrians and that pedestrians are aware that they have to take the time to use the crosswalk and obey the lights.”

Lewis said that the Police Department has made “focused approaches to various areas throughout the city. Citations have been issued and educational contacts have been made.”

Cities around Phoenix also feel the burden of the high rate of pedestrian deaths. On Sept. 14, an 84-year-old woman was killed during a vehicle collision in Scottsdale, according to the Scottsdale Police Department. The incident occurred at 114th Street and Via Linda, according to a Scottsdale Police Department Twitter post.

The high rate of pedestrian fatalities can be decreased with the three “E’s” approach spearheaded by the Police Department and the street transportation department. With the help of these departments, pedestrians will be able to properly use the precautions set forth by the city and decrease the rate of fatalities.

“Vehicles are a causation, but sometimes there has to be that mutual respect coming from the pedestrians,” said Gutier.

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