A Resident's Guide for Creating Safer Communities for Walking and Biking
Section One: What's the problem here?
You may feel afraid to cross a street to walk to a nearby store, be nervous for your children to ride their bikes in your neighborhood, or face obstacles when traveling using a wheelchair or stroller. If you have concerns but are unsure what the problems are, the information in this section can help you identify and describe them.
To be able to travel safely in their community, pedestrians and bicyclists need:
- Access to destinations – Pedestrians and bicyclists need direct, convenient routes to access important facilities, such as schools, businesses, healthcare facilities, and transit facilities.
- A safe space to travel – For pedestrians, this may include a smooth, unobstructed walking surface at least wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass each other, such as a sidewalk or a path that is separated from traffic. For bicyclists, it may include a bike lane, shared lane, or separated facility. In places with slow speeds or very little traffic, a paved shoulder or the roadway itself may be safe enough for walking or bicycling. Both pedestrians and bicyclists need safe street crossings with appropriate crosswalks, signs, and signals.
- The ability to see or detect traffic – Pedestrians and bicyclists should also be able to be seen by oncoming vehicles, both day and night.
- Access to sidewalks and crossings – This includes having well-designed curb ramps to ease changes in elevation.
- Enough time to cross streets – Pedestrians should have time to cross at intersections and crossings with or without pedestrian signals. If there are no signals at the crossing, there must be adequate gaps in traffic to safely cross.
- Continuous facilities – Sidewalks, trails, and bicycle facility networks should be free from gaps, obstructions, and abrupt changes in direction or width.
- Signs and markings designating the route – This includes crosswalk markings, pedestrian way-finding signs, bicycle route markers, and detour signs in construction areas. These signs should be understandable to those with limited English language skills.
Meeting the needs of more vulnerable people, such as
children and pedestrians with disabilities, can make the
walking environment safer for everyone.
Also, different people have different traveling needs. Pedestrians and bicyclists have various levels of physical and cognitive abilities that affect their ability to walk or bike safely in certain conditions. For example:
- Children may have more difficulty seeing (and being seen by) drivers of all types of vehicles, and often have trouble deciding when and where it is safe to cross the street. They have trouble with peripheral vision and gauging speed, and they may also walk or bike at a slower pace than adults.
- Older pedestrians may have reduced motor skills that limit their ability to walk at certain speeds, so they may need more time to cross a street. They also may have trouble getting oriented and understanding traffic signs, so they may need more information on how to get around safely.
- Recent immigrants may have little understanding of English and may not know the bike laws or customs in the U.S., or understand the traffic and pedestrian signals that indicate when to walk.
- People with disabilities (e.g., people using wheelchairs, crutches, canes, or those with visual or cognitive impairments) may be more affected by surface irregularities in the pavement, changes in slope or elevation/grade, lack of accessible curb ramps, and sidewalk width restrictions.
Some communities lack sidewalks, curb ramps, and
facilities, making it difficult for people to travel
easily on foot or by bike.
Types of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Problems
Understanding and properly identifying issues that can cause pedestrian safety problems is an important part of finding a solution. If the problem is not accurately identified, the wrong solution may be applied and the problem could continue. Some typical problems that affect pedestrian and bicyclist safety include:
Poor walking or bicycling accommodations
- No place to walk or bike – There are not enough sidewalks, paths, bike facilities, or trails. Existing facilities do not connect to schools, transit stations, parks, churches, etc. Dirt paths may show where people are walking or biking and that more sidewalks or paths are needed.
- Not enough space – Sidewalks are not wide enough for people to walk comfortably or pass each other, or roadway shoulders or travel lanes are too narrow for a bicycle to comfortably share the road with a motor vehicle.
- Poor surfaces – Sidewalk surfaces are uneven, broken, or covered with debris; bike lanes contain potholes or debris such as leaves or gravel, or dangerous drain grates or utility covers.
- Blocked pathways – Sidewalks, bike lanes, or other paths are blocked by barriers such as vehicles, trash cans, vegetation, snow, utility poles, mail boxes, benches, etc.
- No buffer – There is not enough space between the sidewalk or bike facility and the roadway, or this space lacks trees or landscaping to make pedestrians and bicyclists feel comfortable.
- Difficult street crossings – There are long crossing distances and wide intersections that allow cars to turn at higher speeds. There are intersections with no pedestrian signals, curb ramps, median crossing islands, or markings to indicate where bicyclists should ride or wait. The signal at the intersection doesn't change for a bicycle, or doesn't give enough time for a bicyclist to get through the intersection.
- Poor connectivity – There are many dead-end streets, bike lanes that end unexpectedly, few available roadway crossings, and indirect pedestrian or bike paths.
- Insufficient lighting – There are not enough streetlights to help pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers see each other at night.
- Poor guidance – There are not enough signs or roadway markings to help pedestrians or bicyclists find important destinations or know where to bike, walk, or cross safely in construction areas or through complex intersections.
- No bike racks – There are not enough safe and secure places to park a bicycle at important destinations.
- Conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists – Bicyclists riding on the sidewalk (possibly because they do not feel safe in the street) or even using the same shared-use path may cause conflicts with people walking.
Poor conditions at bus stops (including school bus stops)
Many bus stops are located in places that are difficult to reach by foot or bike, or are not safe and accessible for people of all abilities. Some concerns that might be found at bus stops include:
- Street crossings near the stop are dangerous – Crossings may be inconvenient or there are no obvious places to cross.
- The sidewalk is blocked – The bus shelter, seating, or other barriers block the sidewalk.
- Seating/waiting area is too close to vehicle lanes – There is not enough room for pedestrians to safely wait.
- There are no sidewalks or bike facilities – No sidewalks or curb ramps lead to the bus stop, or there are no bike facilities connecting to the bus stop.
- People walking near the stop take risks – These may include crossing the street in front of the bus or running across the street to catch a bus.
- There is insufficient lighting – The bus stop and nearby street crossings are too dark.
- There are no bike racks – There are no bike racks or space to take bikes on the bus, or secure bike parking near the bus stop.
- The stop lacks shelter and/or seating – Lack of shelter and/or seating at a bus stop reduces the comfort for patrons waiting for transit and may dissuade people from using the bus altogether.
Lack of sidewalks and curb ramps can prohibit access
to a transit stop for some users and make access more
difficult for all users.
The location of a bus stop (e.g., if it comes before or after an intersection or is in the middle of the block) plays an important part in how safe and convenient the stop will be for bus riders to access.
Transit agencies and school districts often choose bus stop locations based on where it is safe for the bus to stop, but they may not consider where pedestrians can walk safely and easily. To further complicate matters, road agencies – not transit agencies or school districts – usually have the responsibility of providing pedestrian or bicycle accommodations near and at bus stops.
For More Information:
Refer to the Pedestrian Safety Guide for Transit Agencies (http://bit.ly/1xK3vNR
) for details about how to address concerns related to transit stops.
Unsafe driver behaviors or traffic characteristics
- Drivers do not yield to pedestrians – Drivers do not stop or yield to pedestrians crossing the roadway.
- Drivers speed or run red lights – Drivers drive too fast through neighborhoods, around schools, or near other places where people are walking and biking; red light or stop sign runners endanger pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Too much traffic – Too many drivers take short cuts through neighborhoods to avoid traffic on major streets; or, there are too many buses, large trucks, or other vehicles for bicyclists and pedestrians to feel comfortable.
- Illegal or unsafe passing – Drivers pass other vehicles stopped at crosswalks for pedestrians or pass stopped school buses; or, drivers cut off bicyclists or pass bicyclists too closely or without signaling.
- Drivers are intoxicated, distracted, or aggressive – Drivers are distracted by cell phones, passengers, and other activities, or are driving under the influence; or, drivers harass bicyclsts and pedestrians nearby.
Driveways can become points of conflict for pedestrians
Unsafe pedestrian or bicyclist behaviors
- Cross the road without looking – Pedestrians and bicyclists do not look in all directions before crossing the street, or do not check for cars turning in front of or behind them.
- Act unpredictably – Pedestrians dart into the road or attempt to cross the street when traffic is approaching; bicyclists weave through traffic or do not use hand signals to indicate changes in their speed or direction.
- Cross the road at unsafe locations – Pedestrians try to cross between cars at traffic lights and between intersections with traffic signals.
- Do not obey traffic signals – Pedestrians cross against pedestrian signals; bicyclists ignore traffic signals and/or stop signs.
- Distracted – As with drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists can be distracted by cell phones, music players, etc.
- Hard to see – Bicyclists do not use headlights and reflectors when biking while it is dark outside (these are mandatory in most States).
- Walk or bike in the wrong direction – Normally, bicyclists should be riding in the same direction as traffic while pedestrians should walk facing traffic; failure to do so can be dangerous, particularly for bicyclists at intersections and driveways where motorists may not be expecting people coming from the other direction.
- Fail to wear a helmet when biking – While wearing a bike helmet won't prevent a crash, it could reduce the likelihood of a life-altering head injury in the event of a crash; also, many cities and States have mandatory helmet laws for some age groups.
Poor conditions at schools
The issues listed above apply to schools as well; just be sure that you also consider the limitations of children walking and biking near and at the school (e.g., height and ability to see cars, mental development, and skills in judging traffic and making decisions). Additionally, you may want to consider the school pick-up and drop-off zones – these are places with a lot of potential conflict between children walking or biking and buses and cars.
For More Information:
To learn more about pedestrian and bicycle safety around schools, visit http://bit.ly/1yz9jGQ
Sometimes, poor pedestrian and bicyclist accommodations or a "traffic culture" that is not conducive for walking and bicycling is a reflection of broader past or current institutional barriers or lack of support for improving walking and biking conditions in a community. In these places, it may be common to hear community members say things like:
- Our community has a plan that they want to run with for expanding a roadway to accommodate more vehicles, but it doesn't represent the values of our community.
- Our elected officials are more concerned about other things, such as creating jobs or dealing with housing issues, than in making our streets safer for vulnerable users.
- Our police want to focus on crime issues and won't dedicate any staff to enforcing pedestrian and bicycle safety, even though just as many people are being killed in traffic crashes.
- Our school administration says that they are too busy to teach children how to walk and bike safely, and that it can't be part of the curriculum.
As someone looking to improve conditions for walking and bicycling, it may seem like an uphill battle with such barriers in place. But, there are lots of ways that communities can work together to break down these barriers, refocus priorities, and work collaboratively to address the concerns that they identify. A key first step is to focus on understanding, documenting, and communicating the problems that exist and why they are important to resolve.
Ways to Assess Problems
You might begin by taking photos or videos, or simply writing down the problems you observe. This can be useful when trying to describe your concerns to decision-makers, local government staff, community members, and other interested people. Below are some other ways that you can assess and document pedestrian and bicycle safety problems in your community:
Perform a walkabout
Countless individuals and community groups across the U.S. have used "walkabouts" to assess the safety of their neighborhoods for pedestrians and bicyclists. Walkabouts can serve as a way to directly observe and document or inventory conditions, and also as a way to effectively engage and collaborate with residents, public works and planning staff, advocates, and elected officials to collectively identify problems and develop a plan to address them.
Download a walkability
checklist at http://bit.ly/1BaosUu
There are a number of tools available – such as walkability, bikeability, or bus stop safety checklists – that can be used to help guide your walkabout. And, walkabouts can be a great opportunity to capture concerns using photos and videos. For example, the Coalition for Livable Communities, in conjunction with the Memphis Center of Independent Living and Memphis Regional Design Center, conducted a video-based walkabout to illustrate where those with disabilities and/or in wheelchairs would have issues on local sidewalks. The videos were then posted on a YouTube channel called "Barrier Free Memphis" (http://www.youtube.com/user/BarrierFreeMemphis) for broader distribution. To learn about more of Memphis's efforts, visit the Community Success Stories section.
Tips for Planning a Walkabout to Identify Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Concerns provides concrete steps you can take to help prepare for, participate in, and use the findings from a walkabout to improve conditions for walking and bicycling in your community. It also provides links to some useful assessment tools and checklists.
Examine pedestrian/bicycle collision and injury data
If you have time or access to someone with technical expertise, you can try to gather more information on pedestrian and bicycle crashes that have occurred in your community. These data are sometimes available through your State or local department of transportation (DOT) and can be a way to determine if an area has a history of pedestrian or bicycle safety problems. For example, the North Carolina DOT provides crash data through a web portal, in which anyone can download several years of data from their city or municipality and look at crash trends (http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/pbcat_nc/). Often, you can request such information from a local police department (who fill out crash reports on the scene of any reported incident) or the county health department (who may collect statistics on traffic-related injuries reported by local hospital emergency departments). You can also request that the local transportation agency review collision data.
Chicago's Complete Streets Chicago Design Guidelines
and policy puts pedestrians first in the goal to balance
streets for all users. For more information,
Talk with other community members
This may be one of the best ways to help identify safety problems in your community and at the same time build a network of involved citizens who are willing to help you address your concerns. You can speak with neighborhood residents and community groups, your local pedestrian or bicycle advisory board, local public health and injury prevention leaders, emergency services professionals, and law enforcement officers. Section 2 gives more detail on ways to communicate and partner with other community members.
Tips and Examples for Working with Social Media has ideas for how to use social media and other web-based tools to communicate with other community members and to pinpoint or map concerns.
Find out what policies and plans are already in place
Your town/city or county may already have a pedestrian or bicycle plan or other transportation plan to address problems in your neighborhood. Or, they may have adopted a Complete Streets policy or design guidelines or a school board resolution to support Safe Routes to School programs. If not, they need to hear from you! Talk to your local planning, transportation, or public works department or pedestrian or bicycle advocacy group to see if there is a list of upcoming transportation projects where you can provide input or find out if other residents have documented similar concerns.
Linking Problems to Solutions
Once you've identified and documented the problems in your community affecting pedestrians and bicyclists, you can start to discuss potential solutions and next steps to take to address your concerns. The next few sections will help you identify who to contact and will give you ideas for potential safety improvements.
Remember that the best solutions usually use a combination of approaches – engineering, education, enforcement, and other ways – to be effective and long-lasting.