Pedestrian Safety on Maine Roads and Streets: Reversing the Trend in Pedestrian Deaths and Injuries
After a decade of improvement, deaths and injuries on America’s roadways began to rise again in 2010, with total traffic deaths increasing by about six percent between 2010 and 2015. But during that same time, pedestrian deaths rose by an astonishing 25 percent—a rate quite disproportionate to the overall increase in fatalities. What factors are contributing to this trend, and what can be done to improve safety for all users of our transportation system, including pedestrians, whose incidence of death and serious injury continues to increase more rapidly than for other users?
While some would assert that these trends are due to motorist behaviors, or to pedestrian behaviors, or to the design of transportation infrastructure, the data confirms that no single factor contributes substantially more than any other. The rebound in road travel volumes since the 2008 recession—(a stronger economy means more vehicle-miles-traveled)—is often cited as the primary factor in increased pedestrian fatalities. But favorable fuel prices, mild weather patterns, speed, aggressive driving, impairment, pedestrian visibility, inadequate driver and pedestrian education, and increased emphasis on walking for health are all seen as contributing factors. And, society’s addiction to the use of smart phones cannot be ignored as a major distracting influence for motorists and pedestrians alike.
Unlike states with larger populations, Maine does not have high numbers of fatalities and serious injuries. Still, Maine crash statistics run parallel with the national trends—overall crashes have increased since 2010, but pedestrian deaths and injuries in Maine are increasing more rapidly than all other crash categories. The number of pedestrian crashes has hovered in the 250-to-300 range for the past 10 years; but pedestrian fatalities, which numbered 11 in 2013 and 9 in 2014, rose dramatically, to 19 in 2015 and 17 in 2016.
Without a good understanding of the causes, states are challenged to develop effective strategies and mitigation measures. Given the relatively small number of incidents, it is not easy for small states like Maine to isolate the causes and contributing factors. To further complicate things, higher vehicular speeds in rural areas contribute substantially to the overall number of pedestrian fatalities while, at the same time, the competing needs of various roadway users in urban areas are associated with a higher overall number of pedestrian crashes. It has been a challenge to identify where first to focus our efforts, and also to determine what would be the most effective strategies. To this end, MaineDOT has adopted a multi-faceted approach to gather information, develop strategies and deliver a targeted program to reduce pedestrian crashes in these populations.
What MaineDOT is Doing
Pedestrian Crash Data - MaineDOT’s Safety Office collects relevant data on pedestrian crashes from accident reports submitted by Maine law enforcement agencies. This data includes pedestrian and driver age, urban/rural, speed limit, light and road conditions, and impairment data, as well as the actions and maneuvers of pedestrians and drivers.
Bike-Ped Safety Working Group - Last year, MaineDOT convened a multi-agency Bike-Ped Safety Working Group to examine crash factors and develop strategies to reduce crashes and fatalities. This group includes participants from organizational units within MaineDOT, and from the Bureau of Highway Safety, Maine State Police, disability advocates, local planning organizations, Bicycle Coalition of Maine, AAA, AARP and community representatives. Recognizing that pedestrians and motorists share the responsibility for keeping themselves and others safe, the group coined a slogan, “Heads Up! Safety is a Two-Way Street.”
Heads Up! Pedestrian Safety Project - Building on the work of the Working Group, MaineDOT and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine jointly developed this project to help communities foster local engagement and empowerment efforts that can improve pedestrian safety through local forums, safety reviews, analysis of local contributing factors, law enforcement outreach and development of short- and long-term pedestrian-safety mitigation plans. This project has an urban component in focus communities where clusters of crashes have occurred, and a statewide component through which other communities can obtain technical assistance and support for community engagement. "The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is thrilled to be partnering with the MaineDOT to improve pedestrian safety in communities all over Maine,” said Nancy Grant, executive director of the coalition. “Mainers of all ages deserve the ability to walk safely on our roads, whether for transportation, recreation or health.”
Crosswalk and Sidewalk Training for Local Officials - MaineDOT’s Local Roads Center developed a half-day workshop for public works departments and local officials responsible for managing and supporting local transportation infrastructure. These sessions focus on the importance of crosswalks and sidewalks, where they are located and how they are maintained, as well as the legal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Pedestrian Safety Interventions Pilot Program for Vulnerable Populations - MaineDOT, other state agencies and non-profit organizations have struggled to identify effective ways to share resources and information with certain vulnerable populations. This year, MaineDOT will begin a pilot program to develop and evaluate multiple outreach systems for selected target audiences. Phase 1 of the project will develop communication and outreach strategies to communicate with Maine’s homeless population, with those for whom English is a second language and with people who are elderly or disabled. Phase 2 of the project will explore the transferability to other communities of the strategies developed in Phase 1. Upon the successful transfer of strategies in Phase 2, MaineDOT will roll out statewide implementation of successful strategies.
With tragic increases in the number and severity of vehicle-pedestrian crashes, MaineDOT has intensified efforts to develop strategies to reverse these trends. Going forward, the department will continue searching for ways to promote increased safety for all users of the transportation system, with a special emphasis on those who are walkers.
This article appeared in Front Page on June 19, 2017. It was first published in “Maine Trails” magazine and is reprinted with permission.
For More Information
To discuss programming and opportunities for your community, please contact Patrick Adams, Manager of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-624-3311. Additional information can also be found at http://www.maine.gov/mdot/bikeped.
Joyce is Chief Engineer at Maine Department of Transportation.