Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2017

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Bright ideas on how to avoid pedestrian deaths

Remember when you could track your physical fitness by standing on a scale once a week and fudging if you needed to, because the scale was never all that accurate in the first place?

Now I’m carrying in my pocket a gizmo called a Fitbit — it looks like a key fob — that somehow registers how far I walk, how many steps I climb, how many calories I burn. My doctor — or worse, my wife — can assign me a goal (say, 10,000 steps a day) and at day’s end, I can see how close I came. Or worse, how much more I have to walk before I can relax!

But it seems I also need to wear glow rings around my neck, a miner’s lamp on my head, reflective tape on my arms and legs and the kind of shoes my grandchildren wear, the ones with blinking lights.

Why? So motorists see me. Last week’s cover story in The Sunday, about the number of pedestrians who are struck and killed by vehicles in our valley, jarred me. Jackie Valley reported that, in 2012 (the most recent year with complete data), pedestrians died at a higher rate in Clark County than in the counties that include Manhattan, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago and Dallas.

The story explained how we got in this sorry mess (pedestrians beware: our wide, straight roads tolerate if not encourage speeding traffic).

Better-designed crosswalks would help, with more flashing lights and medians featuring zig-zag paths forcing pedestrians to look both ways.

But it takes money. In her State of the City address, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the city is going to spend $3.5 million over five years to improve pedestrian safety. That’s great news — but it’s just $700,000 a year, and safety improvements just at the intersection of Blue Diamond and Cimarron roads are expected to cost at least $1 million.

So what else can we do?

This brings me back to the reflective tape and glow rings. Pedestrians need to be a lot more responsible, starting with wearing light-colored clothes at night so you're not lost in the shadows. And even if you have the legal right-of-way to walk out into a marked crosswalk when the “walk” sign is flashing, that won’t inoculate you from a 3,000-pound mass of steel rolling across you at 40 mph. You can sue and win — if there’s a courtroom in your afterlife.

Motorists, too, have to be more alert on our busy arteries and our quiet neighborhood streets. We don’t know when a ball will roll out from between two parked vehicles, or an aging grandmother, worried about her balance while crossing the street to get her mail, is looking down at her feet and not side-to-side at the very moment a quiet, hybrid vehicle is heading into her path.

Jackie’s story is a must-read. But what also moved me in last week’s The Sunday was an advertisement by the Nevada Department of Transportation. It depicted a traffic sign with the stick figure of a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The sign was shaped as a heart, and the headline read, “Every pedestrian is important to someone.”

Please, motorists, drive as if every pedestrian out there is your aging mom, your distracted son, your tender grandchild. If you are taking a walk, you should consider wearing light-colored clothes, reflective tape and flashing shoe lights. And always assume that drivers aren’t paying attention.

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