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May 3, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

A strategy for pedestrian safety in perilous Las Vegas


Leila Navidi

Pedestrians wait to cross the street at the busy intersection of Boulder Highway and Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas Thursday, November 3, 2011.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrians use a Danish offset as they cross Maryland Parkway near UNLV Monday, October 7, 2011.  A Danish offset is in the median area where the crosswalk makes an S turn, slowing pedestrians down and making them look at traffic before they cross. Launch slideshow »

Pedestrian Safety on Boulder Highway

Latacsha Paniza waits to cross Tropicana Avenue at Boulder Highway in Las Vegas Thursday, November 3, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Pedestrian killed near Alta

KSNV coverage of pedestrian being hit and killed in Las Vegas, Nov. 5, 2011.

We do not notice them, but we should. Pedestrians are our city’s second-class citizens, as has become all too clear with the recent spate of deadly incidents.

And while rage at the drivers may make us feel better, we should also have a feeling of collective guilt, for these deaths are merely the most extreme and tragic result of what is a colossal public policy failure.

How so?

During the 1990s, cities across the country embraced what’s called New Urbanism, a central plank of which is walkable communities.

Why? Well, we’ve finally discovered that aside from sustenance and procreation, there are two things that all humans need: physical activity and social interaction. I discourage you from testing my assertion, because if you try to live without these two essentials, first you will go crazy, then you will acquire chronic diseases and then you will die an unpleasant death.

Some genius figured out that walking in an urban environment achieves both of these necessary activities at the same time, and also people like it. (Among Generation Y, 80 percent said they’d like to live in an urban environment, or if in a suburb one that offers walkability, according to polling from real estate consulting firm RCLCO.)

Given the rapid growth of Las Vegas during the ’90s, right when New Urbanism was sweeping the country, you would think we’d have built a utopia of walkability and livability.

You would think. But no, not us. That was for hippies.

We handed the keys of the city to developers, who did what they knew how to do from making boatloads of money in Southern California — auto-dominated suburbia. So we have a city for cars, not people. (Let’s except the Strip, which is generally safe and stimulating for walkers. We treat the customers better than we treat the help.)

As we’ve learned, though they may seem invisible, we have far more pedestrians than we think.

I went to Boulder Highway and Tropicana Avenue to talk to pedestrians, and they had horror stories: Nightmare intersections, broken signals, near misses. A woman who asked to be called Kat drives a motorized wheelchair and says she was backed over in a Walgreens parking lot by a drunken motorist.

Harold Archuleta was making his way up Boulder Highway. “It is dangerous,” he says.

According to the pedestrian advocacy group Transportation for America, Las Vegas is the sixth-most-dangerous city in the country for walkers.

When Archuleta complained to a Metro Police officer that the pedestrian signal at Indios Avenue wasn’t working, the officer helpfully told him to go to the other side of the street. Implicit there is the subtle contempt that many people here feel for pedestrians — if you don’t have a car, clearly there’s something wrong with you, so you don’t deserve my respect. (A colleague who frequently walks in his neighborhood says ruefully that drivers seem to think Las Vegas is some sort of bizzaro world where cars always have the right of way.)

So what can be done? Unfortunately, to some extent, there’s not much we can do. We made this mess — what James Howard Kunstler, author of “Geography of Nowhere,” calls “Drive-in World” — and now we’re stuck with it.

But there are a few steps we can take, at fairly minimal cost, that would make life safer and less stressful for pedestrians. That in turn might encourage more people to take to the streets, which would make walking even safer because with a critical mass of pedestrians, drivers would pay more attention to them.

Kelly Morphy of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute offers these tips:

• Where we think people might be walking, reduce speed limits. Duh. People hit by cars approaching 40 mph die 85 percent of the time, while at 20 mph they die only 5 percent of the time.

• Many people don’t drive the speed limit. They drive what they perceive to be a safe speed. So, people drive faster on wider roads. Guess what? Oops, we built really wide roads. And, we have narrow sidewalks — in neighborhoods lucky enough to have them — that are bordered by enough imposing walls for a citywide Pink Floyd concert. Sidewalks should be widened, and driving lanes narrowed.

• Create buffers between the sidewalk and the road. I recommend desert landscaping. This serves a second purpose: It makes walking more interesting: As Kunstler says, “If the journey is unrewarding, people will not walk, and walking past walls and parking lots and the aprons of strip malls is extremely unrewarding.” But if we don’t want to spend the money, then street parking will serve the same purpose.

• Alter intersections to make them tighter and to necessitate tighter turns. This forces drivers to slow down.

• Better crosswalk markings, especially if they’re in the middle of a block.

• Consider roundabouts. Drivers hate them, but they compel them to slow down and eliminate deadly left-hand turns.

• Once we need to replace streets, consider brick for residential neighborhoods. It also slows down drivers.

And finally, here’s an idea: People who get lots of moving violations should be forced to be crossing guards for a week.

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  1. Its time to eliminate all 45 mph speed limits. Reduce all limits by 10 mph .

  2. Yesterday, I drove past Ed Von Tobel, a middle school, just after classes had let out for the day. At Pecos and Carey, there were no crossing guards--none. The traffic lights were working fine. The walk signs were red, with the red hand up, meaning, as we all should know, don't walk. Dozens--I do not exaggerate--of kids went right through the crosswalk anyway. The light on Pecos was green, and one car got through because the kids ignored the signs. It seems to me that there is a lot of dereliction of duty here--parents teaching their kids, kids paying attention, and the absence of crossing guards.

  3. @palms999...

    "Walkers don't contribute anything."
    HUH. You assume that people that drive don't also walk...or vice-versa... You weren't serious there, were ya?

    "People who are driving should be given priority over pedestrians."
    HUH. If it wasn't for people 'walking' Las Vegas, there wouldn't BE a Las least none that you'd notice. Surely you are puttin' us on!

    "Vegas doesn't even have a climate favorable to walking."
    HUH. And here I thought that I and tens of thousands of fellow valley residents moved here SPECIFICALLY FOR the great climate and our ability to recreate year-round. You MUST be from Cali...or kidding...or BOTH!

    "If you want to walk around that's fine, but it should be done at your own risk and without any expectation that drivers are going to look out for you."
    HUH. You are correct that people should NEVER EVER assume that 'drivers are going to look out for you'... however, we should have the EXPECTATION that drivers will follow the laws of the roadway, including those pertaining to crosswalks, attentiveness while driving, stopping for red lights and stop signs, etc... you ARE MESSIN' WITH US, RIGHT???

  4. Not too long ago, about 50/year were being killed, more than lightening strikes across the U.S.

    Lock at the streets of Las Vegas, particularly the main thoroughfare and consider them the arena of a large Roman Colosseum. To become part of the arena without thinking is to attract the same ending. It happens quick. Think to live, that is the objective.

  5. Being from Chicago I love to walk but I can't do it in Las Vegas because it is boring, too hot most of the year, residential areas do not have sidewalks and walking in the street is unsafe and motorists assume your car has broken down and (the good samaritans among them) want to give you a lift.

  6. "For these deaths are merely the...tragic result of what is a colossal public policy failure" Huh? Seriously? If only I had a dime for every time I've seen a pedestrain s..l..o..w..l..y jaywalking across a street, getting annoyed or even angry at cars that swerve out of the way (instead of stopping, I guess).

    On the other hand, there are indeed some mechanical problems, such as the walk sign on the north-east corner of Rancho & Sahara that is off by 6 seconds from it's north-west counterpart (once it counts down to 6 seconds it immediately goes to 0 and the oncoming traffic has a green light).

  7. I find it a failure of journalistic standards that the Sun chose to not only delete and change the photo originally posted here, but then also deleted all the comments that related to that photo and left no trace that they ever appeared.


    For those of you who missed it:

    The main photo on this story was originally of a crosswalk at Boulder Highway and Tropicana. The photo depicted several people crossing at the crosswalk, including a brunette woman pushing a stroller, looking down at the ground, talking on a cell phone, and utterly oblivious to the dangers around her and her child.

    Clearly, that photo undermined Mr. Coolican's essay -- and rightfully so. Nobody said an Op-Ed essay had to depict *both* sides of a story but they are more compelling when they do.

    Drivers must drive defensively, pedestrians must walk defensively, and nothing that the government can do (including painting crosswalks) will help those who refuse to help themselves.

  8. "we should also have a feeling of collective guilt"

    I did not hit these pedestrians, therefore, while I feel sad for the victims I feel no "guilt" whatsoever.

    I get tired of seeing people scramble like cockroaches through busy intersections to catch their next bus. I get tired of them jaywalking. I get tired of them walking between cars panhandling. I don't think they feel any guilt, so why should I?

  9. Hey Reza - Web editor doesn't know what you're talking about. I assure the readers there was no conspiracy to change photos to better suit my column.
    Predictably, lots of blame going to pedestrians in the comments. Obviously pedestrians needs to be responsible, but creating some equivalence of responsibility here is a little ridiculous. They're not the ones in 4,000 pound machines going 50 miles per hour.

  10. The photo and comments are on this story by Kyle Hansen:

  11. Mr. Coolican,

    A car traveling 50 MPH moves 73 feet per second, and driver reaction time is slightly less than a second.

    Those who don't place equal responsibility on the pedestrian are doomed to die on a bumper.

    As for the changes on the photo, I'm not the only one who saw it. Interesting.

  12. Mr. Coolican mentions sidewalk construction as a factor. I agree, the narrow sidewalks that do not permit two people to walk side-by-side without one of them stepping off the curb is dangerous enough. Add in the walls and pedestrians have no way to take evasive action if needed. Even a single pedestrian must step off the curb to go around many obstacles.

    Bus stop placement should also be taken into consideration. Here, at major intersections, the bus stop is located in such a way to make it a target for bad left turns. That is, the stop for a north-bound bus is located on the Northeast corner of the intersection. I think most cities would place it on the Southeast corner, instead.

    Yes, that placement can back up traffic wishing to make a right turn, but it is much safer for the people using the bus.

    I think there is another, much more subtle factor in play, though. It seems that many more people are trusting that others will be playing by the rules (laws) and therefore they will be safe from harm. This is an outgrowth from the nanny-state mentality, in my opinion.

    People simply are not looking out for themselves to the same extent as 40 or more years ago. I would think that most people who grew up in my time would never trust a walk signal or a car's turn signal but would be sure to make eye-contact first before going into the danger zone.

  13. Every day I see couples jogging with their dogs in the emergency or parking lane of busy 6 lane streets where the posted speed limit is 45 mph. Sometimes I see morons jogging in or on the median. Even though there is a sidewalk, they refuse to use it. It is too narrow to allow them to run with the dogs side by side. They ignore the 55 mph traffic next to them. C'mon, everyone speeds in Vegas. Call me crazy but I think its very dangerous. If I were a police officer I would warn them of the danger or cite them from time to time (NRS 484B.297 Section 1). Pedestrian laws need to be enforced too. There are so many drivers here in Las Vegas that are under the influence of drugs (alcohol is a drug), pedestrians need to be constantly on guard. Drugs (alcohol is a drug) are part of the culture here so pedestrians must be vigilant.

  14. We have long had a problem of aggressive drivers; in the last 20 years or so we have also developed a problem of aggressive pedestrians. Guess who's going to lose that battle.
    ' Better crosswalk markings, especially if they're in the middle of a block.' is a point I find troubling. In the middle of a block, traffic is getting up to speed (if not already so), and it can be quite difficult to stop if someone suddenly pops out - I know because I was rear-ended by another motorist when a pedestrian just walked out in front of me without even pausing and looking. The person was walking down the sidewalk and suddenly turned without warning. Pedestrians who insist on their 'right' to walk out in front of oncoming traffic are a danger to themselves and motorists.
    I was taught repeatedly when I was young to look both ways and make sure the way was clear when crossing a road. It was a message commonly seen and heard many years ago. Now I don't hear that very often at all, and it should be on billboards and PSA's all the time. Just blaming the drivers might politically convenient, but more lives will be saved when pedestrians start taking more care.

  15. There seems to be a type of continental culture here where the pedestrians crosses where ever they feel, regardless of traffic. In other countries, many places have been converted to favor walking, turning narrow streets into walking boulevards.

    It is true, that years, even eons ago, school children were educated as to proper bicycling and pedestrian safety. There is little of that now.

    Parents need to teach and model safety to their children. They need to check on their children who are walkers, that they follow safe procedures time to time. Sadly, this is not being done and we see the proof in deaths and tragic stories.

    Also, the Clark County Planning Commissioners must be held accountable for the poor planning involved in many of the gated communities that have sprung up throughout the valley, that have neither sidewalks nor appropriately placed crosswalks and supports as crossing guards.

    Many schools have their teachers and or staff do crosswalk duty when a hired crossing guard is not available. But that serves only the crosswalks that are immediate to the school. Still there are parents and or children crossing in the middle of the street outside of the safe crosswalk area, a very dangerous situation indeed. From time to time, a child will get hit, yet nothing really changes.

    People need to take responsibility for THEIR actions. Never assume the other guy is being careful and watching out for you. Ass--u--me is what assume is about when you don't take responsibility for yourself.

    Blessings and peace,

  16. Comment removed by moderator. Name Calling