Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2019

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Light rail, technology keys to protecting pedestrians

The heartbreaking numbers keep going up.

This year, it’s all but certain there will be a record number of pedestrian deaths in Clark County.

The Las Vegas Valley came into this month with 59 deaths, according to the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety. The record for a full calendar year is 62, set in 1999.

There are multiple causes to the problem, of course. Some intersections are poorly designed, poorly lit, poorly marked or all three. Speed is a factor, as 45 mph speed limits are common on surface streets in Las Vegas, and being struck by a car going that fast is almost always fatal for pedestrians.

Jaywalking and distracted or drunken driving also are factors, as some people make bad choices that contribute to tragedies.

Heading into 2018, here are a few initiatives that local officials should get behind to help address the problem:

• Light rail: The valley’s roads are crowded, which leads to a simple mathematical formula: More cars plus a steady or increasing number of pedestrians equals more chances for accidents.

It’s one of many reasons that in 2018, officials should make development of a light rail system a top priority.

Light rail wouldn’t end pedestrian fatalities — no single solution would — but it would help get some cars off of some roadways, easing congestion in some high-traffic areas.

There are many other reasons to kick it into high gear on light rail — including that it would help tourism and convention business by making the visitor experience more convenient — but improving safety would be among the multitude of benefits.

• Smart crosswalks: At a crosswalk downtown, the city of Las Vegas recently began testing lidar (short for light detection and ranging) technology that will provide a huge range of data that traffic engineers can use to help protect pedestrians. Joanna Wadsworth, program manager, said the remote sensing system can detect when cars are driving the wrong way into the crosswalk, when traffic is especially heavy, when cars are speeding and more.

The data could be helpful in numerous ways. For instance, it might prompt engineers to put up more signage to guard against drivers going the wrong way, or the city might use it to request law-enforcement presence during times when traffic volume is especially high.

• Interconnected infrastructure and vehicles: Imagine if your car could communicate digitally with computer systems that monitored parking spaces and could direct you to open spots, saving you from having to drive around looking for a place to pull in.

The technology exists, and it’s expanding all the time to include interconnected traffic lights (so your car can map out a route), interconnected cars (which communicate to each other to help motorists find the fastest routes and map out detours around accidents), and interconnected utility poles (which can monitor for backups in traffic and, using sensors, facilitate instant reporting of accidents). It all can help reduce road miles by cars, thereby cutting down on the chances of cars hitting pedestrians. Local transportation officials are exploring such technology with an eye toward integrating it into designs for road projects and enhancements.

Current measures to reduce pedestrian fatalities are fine — like several new, brightly lit crosswalks that have popped up — but the number of deaths this year is a clear sign that much more needs to be done.