Pedestrian fatalities on the rise, solutions in the works

Published: Feb. 2, 2018 at 10:25 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2018 at 11:10 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The recent rash of pedestrian fatal accidents in Tucson has created a lot of conversation but also an admonition that little can be done short term.

Five people have died on Tucson's streets so far in 2018. 17 died in all of 2017.

The Tucson Police Department said it has no answers at to why so many people are dying in such a short time frame. There's no evidence that the fault lies with either motorists or pedestrians exclusively.

A woman was killed when she was legally in the crosswalk, another was in the crosswalk but was walking against the red light.

Vanessa Cascio, chair of the Tucson Pedestrian Advisory Committee, feels the solution is likely more long term than short term.

"The city is moving forward with the policy level initiatives to address the crisis we're seeing, the epidemic of pedestrian deaths," she said.

The city policies are include engineering, education and enforcement, all of which will take time to bear fruit.

The city recently passed an ordinance which makes using a hand held device behind the wheel of a vehicle a primary offense. It took effect February 1 but TPD will not issue citations until March 3.

Whether that will be effective at all is still an issue.

"There actually hasn't been a consensus," said Cascio. "It's really hard to measure where hand held will actually reduce crashes at all."

There is no evidence at the present time she said to support that. But there is more and more research being done. Some of it shows "just because you don't have to have a phone in your hand doesn't mean you're cognitively not distracted."

Eating in a car, holding a dog, having a heated discussion with a passenger or even putting on makeup can make the driver distracted.

Cascio believes if the new ordinance does not do what supporters hope, that it will lead to a culture shift which she believe is needed.

"I think oftentimes, as a culture, as a community, we take for gr anted that these are just, that this is just normal," she said.

However, this month alone, the city has passed a series of measures which will tackle to the problem long term.

One of those is called Complete Streets which means just that. One part of that is adding sidewalks, because right now, more than half the major streets don't have sidewalks, making them unsafe.

"Studies show that just having the presence of sidewalks can decrease crashes by 88 percent," Cascio said.

Another proposal which is being debated and could likely tackle the problem short term, is a reduction in speed limits.

Some neighborhoods which have high bicycle and pedestrian traffic have reduced speed limits to 20 mile per hour.

But most pedestrian accidents happen on the wider, high speed arterials like 22nd Street and Broadway, not neighborhoods.

"That's where engineering would be the most effective," she said. "Transportation engineers want to keep traffic flowing."

And the Living Streets Alliance wants to keep pedestrians alive.

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