Construction sites seem to be everywhere in large cities like San Francisco, New York City, and Philadelphia. Crews are constantly building everything from business complexes to high rise apartment buildings to accommodate a growing need for housing.
The world can't function without new development projects. However, construction sites pose a significant danger to pedestrians and an enormous risk to distracted pedestrians.
Pedestrians aren't safe near construction zones
Unfortunately, the prevalence of construction sites in large, busy cities also increases the risk for pedestrian accidents and deaths. For instance, Philadelphia resident Trang Thuy was walking past a luxury condo construction site in New York City when she was struck and killed by a piece of flying plywood. This type of accident is all too common.
People know they're not safe walking by construction sites. For instance, Pearce Law collected and published a host of eye-opening data regarding pedestrian safety in Philadelphia. Among the data are results from a poll that asked, "What is the biggest problem Philadelphia pedestrians face?" Forty-one percent of respondents named construction areas and blocked sidewalks as the biggest problem for pedestrians.
In 2018, there were 1,540 pedestrian accidents in Philly, and 127 were either serious or fatal. Many pedestrian accidents occur while the subject is trying to cross the street to get around a closed sidewalk. Forcing pedestrians to jaywalk around a closed sidewalk only increases the risk of an accident.
Developers aren't required to build protected walkways for pedestrians
Traditionally, construction crews have built covered walkways to protect pedestrians from flying and falling debris. However, crews aren't required to build covered walkways and they often won't. If a developer gets one of their engineers to say a covered walkway is impractical, they don't have to build one. This means pedestrian safety is ultimately in the hands of the city.
Busy cities need a better way to protect pedestrians from the risks of jaywalking around closed sidewalks. The good news is that pedestrian safety can be achieved with simple technology already proven to work.
How cities can use technology to increase pedestrian safety
The city of Burnsville, Minnesota engineered a brilliant solution to increase pedestrian safety that any city can use as a template. The city hired Sohrweide and SEH traffic engineers to develop a solution to a big problem and the results were positive.
When a hospital expansion in the city of Burnsville pushed the employee parking lot to the opposite side of a busy four-lane road, employees had to cross four lanes of traffic to get to work. Rather than using traditional crosswalks, the city installed a system utilizing Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) that flash in an irregular pattern designed to capture attention. Installing RRFBs on crosswalks has been shown to improve vehicle compliance with pedestrian right-of-way.
The new system also strategically placed pedestrian crossing signs in multiple locations, utilized stop bars, and installed in-pavement flashers.
The results surpassed expectations. Ninety-six percent of cars stopped for pedestrians at the crosswalks and 82% of pedestrians pushed the RRFB button.
In cities like Philly where pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, installing this type of system would prevent accidents and save lives.
Construction sites would benefit from temporary RRFB technology
Protecting pedestrians while jaywalking around a closed sidewalk is as simple as installing a temporary sign with RRFBs.
Installing flashing in-pavement lights for a temporary crosswalk might be too expensive for cities. However, there has to be a way to engineer this type of solution in a less permanent way, especially since construction projects can drag on for months or even years.
RRFB technology can be used on temporary signs and doesn't require the use of in-pavement flashing lights. Cities can follow Burnsville's lead and install advanced warning signs with flashing lights on either side of the road where pedestrians will cross when walking around a closed sidewalk. They can also utilize brightly colored paint to identify crosswalk boundaries instead of in-pavement flashing lights.
Pedestrians deserve to be protected. As long as developers continue to close sidewalks instead of building covered walkways, it will be up to each city to implement pedestrian safety measures. Thankfully, the right safety technology is readily available to city officials committed to protecting pedestrians.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant. Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. Read Larry Alton's Reports — More Here.
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