Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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EDITORIAL:

What can we do to make our roads safer to walk along?

A recent study named Las Vegas one of the most dangerous places in the nation for pedestrians. The “Dangerous by Design” survey, done by a pair of traffic safety groups, found Las Vegas to be roughly twice as dangerous as the average American city.

If you’ve taken a walk anywhere around town, you know the truth in that. Drivers often don’t pay attention. Same with pedestrians. The result can be tragic. Consider:

• As The Sunday reported in March, a pedestrian died about every six days in Clark County in 2012. That’s two deaths per 100,000 people, a rate higher than Manhattan, which is infamous for hordes of pedestrians walking against red lights.

• In 2012, UMC, the county’s only public hospital, treated 244 people who were hit by vehicles. More than half of those pedestrians were uninsured, meaning taxpayers were responsible for millions of dollars in bills.

• From 2003 to 2012, 540 pedestrians were killed in Nevada, 413 of them in Clark County. Pedestrians accounted for roughly 1 in 5 traffic fatalities in Clark County.

Those numbers are outrageous and should be of serious concern to people around the valley.

What’s the danger?

The valley has plenty of wide boulevards with long blocks that invite high speeds. Long stretches between crosswalks invite jaywalking. And Las Vegas is a 24/7 town, meaning there is no slow time; there can be traffic and pedestrians any time of day.

Safety experts also point out that alcohol flows around the clock, so there’s the added danger of buzzed or drunken drivers and pedestrians — not to mention tired or distracted drivers.

What do we do?

Design: Traffic safety experts have called for better design of roads and sidewalks. Some cities and master-planned communities have made efforts to separate sidewalks from the roads to increase safety, and that’s a good step. Still, urban planners need to look at other ways to reduce traffic hazards, like finding alternative paths, reducing the size of blocks and adding crosswalks.

Laws: It wasn’t that many years ago that Nevada had some of the worst laws regarding pedestrians in the nation. Pedestrians were essentially to blame for nearly any collision. The numbers showed the problem: In 2000, there were 43 pedestrian fatalities in Nevada; in 2005, there were 63. State lawmakers tightened the laws, such as by outlawing the use of hand-held cellphones. But however strong the laws are, it won’t matter if they’re not enforced.

Enforcement: Police staffing is down since the recession, and efforts to boost law enforcement levels have failed in Clark County. That means there are fewer cops writing tickets and providing a deterrent to speeding. That’s a serious problem; we can’t expect to see a curb in fatalities without more officers patrolling the streets.

People: Driving in Las Vegas isn’t easy, and poor and distracted drivers don’t help. The state’s aggressive traffic safety program, with its high-profile publicity campaigns, has helped raise awareness of several issues, including buzzed and distracted drivers. But it’s not just drivers. Pedestrians also create a real hazard, jaywalking across lanes of traffic, particularly at night.

Bottom line: Traffic fatalities should be addressed as a public health concern, and safety has to be at the top of everyone’s mind. Law enforcement needs to be bolstered, governments need to make sure roads are well designed with pedestrians in mind, and police departments need more officers. Still, it all comes down to the people driving and walking. They need to be aware and held accountable for their actions.

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