Are Salt Lake pedestrians safe?

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 10:00 a.m. MDT

A pedestrian walks in the rain after riding TRAX in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) A pedestrian walks in the rain after riding TRAX in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

In the past two days, two teenagers were hit in pedestrian-vehicle accidents in Salt Lake City. Both of the boys were walking to school — one ending in a fatality. As many of us are pedestrians each day, how safe are we?

In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed nationwide and 82,000 were injured. This number is 4 percentage points higher than in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's most recent data.

For Utah, there were 116 pedestrian-vehicle deaths from 2008-10. As for teens (ages 13 to 19), there was one death, and in 2011 it increased to five auto-pedestrian deaths. All of the teen deaths in 2011 were in Salt Lake City, according to data gathered by Jenny Johnson, media and education coordinator for the Violence and Injury Prevention Program of the Utah Department of Health.

With every pedestrian accident, the Salt Lake City transportation team does their best to figure out what the causes were — whether a bush or not enough lighting, said Dan Bergenthal, transportation engineer for the Salt Lake City transportation division. They then do their best to prevent an accident from happening again, he said.

"Most people are pedestrians at some point in their day — that's why we're reminding the public to take precautions and use crosswalks or intersections whenever possible and wait for a gap in traffic that allows enough time to cross the street," David Strickland, National Highway Traffic Safety administrator, said in a press release. "Drivers should pay attention behind the wheel, especially in hard-to-see conditions and at night."

In both recent incidents, the teenagers were walking in the early morning to school when it was still dark out and weather conditions were wet.

"In Utah, 59 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur from 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.," according to a report from the Utah Department of Health. If a pedestrian is wearing dark clothing, a driver can see the walker at 55 feet. If wearing white clothing, the driver can be seen at 180 feet. However, if a pedestrian is wearing reflective clothing the driver can spot the walker at 500 feet, according to the report.

The Salt Lake City transportation division says it has worked hard at lowering the pedestrian-vehicle crashes. Two years ago, HAWK pedestrian signals were implemented on various busy streets, first appearing on 1300 south. The HAWK signal stands for high-intensity activated crosswalk. Though the signal looks similar to other crosswalk signs for pedestrians, for drivers it's a slightly different light. It signals a yellow flashing light for cars to slow down. A red light then appears to notify cars to stop to let a pedestrian walk safely across the street.

In 2000, residents saw crosswalk flags put at various crosswalks in Salt Lake City. Currently, they can be found in more than 200 locations across the city, according to Bergenthal. Officials have also implemented more countdown timers on the pedestrian signals to help keep pedestrians informed.

This year, the Salt Lake City transportation division is also updating its Salt Lake City Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which will be finished by fall 2013.

"The purpose of the bicycle and pedestrian master plan is to provide Salt Lake City Corporation with a strong planning tool that will facilitate the continued and orderly development of bicycle and pedestrian facilities and implementation strategies that encourage their use," according to the Salt Lake City transportation division.

Officials want pedestrian accidents to go to zero, Bergenthal said. He said that one item the Salt Lake City transportation division will be analyzing for the master plan is crosswalk areas that only have crosswalk lines painted on the street but no other safety features.

The Salt Lake City School District also works at informing students by reviewing pedestrian safety guidelines at the beginning of the school year.

However, safety also depends on the pedestrian and driver to be alert, aware of their surroundings and more importantly obey traffic rules. The student who was hit on Tuesday morning had not used a crosswalk. Edwin Cardoso, the ninth-grade student who was killed, was using a crosswalk, but the driver didn't yield to the pedestrian.

Email: ehong@desnews.com Twitter: @erinhong

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