UA study finds racial bias at crosswalks

Published: Oct. 13, 2015 at 8:12 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2015 at 9:37 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A new study shows there is racial bias at crosswalks, something that can have implications for urban planners who want to get people to walk more.

When pedestrians cross the street, most worry about their safety, not whether or not a driver will stop based on what color they are.

The University of Arizona conducted a pilot study in collaboration with Portland State University, made possible by a grant from the National Institute for Transportation and Communities.

Researchers had three white men and three black men cross an intersection in Portland, Ore. at different times. The men were dressed the same, and were trained to use the same body language. Researchers found that yes, there was a difference.

Black pedestrians waited one-third times longer than the white pedestrians for a car to stop. Plus, twice as many cars passed the black pedestrians as the white pedestrians before someone stopped.

Arlie Adkins is a U of A assistant professor of urban planning in the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. Adkins said, with urban planners trying to encourage more walking and with a possible safety issue, these findings are important.

"We really emphasize trying to make walking environments safe and comfortable for pedestrians. This is one of those things that, even if it's not contributing to an increase in fatalities, it can make a walking experience less comfortable, less inviting for a person of color, and that's something that I think, as we are trying to get more people to walk, we need to be thinking about," Adkins said.

People Tucson News Now spoke with said they were surprised by the findings.

"I think it's really surprising. I never really think of it when I see pedestrians crossing a crosswalk. I never think of it in that way so I thought it was really interesting," Adriana Espinosa said.

"Seems like too many people get run over in Tucson to begin with. But I guess that's not a lot of people respecting the crosswalk," Jim Davis said.

Now that the first study has shown there is racial bias at crosswalks, the next study will help answer the question of what urban planners can do about it.

The new, expanded study will include women and crosswalk changes.

"For example, one of the things we think might happen is that, if there's a sign reminding drivers that it's a state law to stop at a crosswalk, it may make their decision to stop more about following the law than it is about extending some sort of courtesy to that pedestrian. So our hypothesis there is that we see less racial bias in that context," Adkins said.

2015 has been deadly for people walking here in Tucson - 11 pedestrians have been hit and killed so far this year and there are still two more months left to go. That number is up from 7 in 2014.

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