Walking is the oldest form of transportation on the planet, but it’s ever in need of new ideas to make it safer. That urgency was recently on display at the annual Texas Statewide Pedestrian Safety Forum, hosted Aug. 22 by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) and sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation.
“Addressing pedestrian safety requires both commitment and collaboration,” says TTI Senior Research Scientist Michael Manser, who led the forum. More than 175 participants attended the forum, a new record, Manser notes. The forum’s growing popularity is evidence that those who attended are taking the challenge seriously to improve pedestrian safety — a challenge that has only grown in recent years, according to Ivan Cheung of the National Transportation Safety Board.
“Vehicles and roads have become safer,” Cheung told the group, “but sometimes at the expense of vulnerable road users.” As a result, pedestrian deaths account for a steadily rising share of overall traffic fatalities in the United States: from 11 percent in 2007 to 16 percent now, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Stemming that tide is especially difficult in fast-growing urban areas, and Texas is increasingly more urban and more diverse, said State Rep. Celia Israel. The Texas lawmaker highlighted her own interest in roadway safety issues, which includes a desire to lower residential speed limits, a policy change that she said she plans to pursue when the Texas Legislature meets again in 2021.
Israel also applauded the attendees for their work. “I’m a legislator who believes in data, and you’re my favorite kind of audience; you’re the experts,” she said. “I encourage you to do more of this [kind of work].”
Participants focused their attention on a wide range of topics and issues. Those included policy debates, equity and trade-offs in design and implementation, bridging the pedestrian safety communication gap, and law enforcement considerations. In all respects, discussions centered on the need for new ideas, a viewpoint reinforced by CTS Director Robert Wunderlich.
“This really is a crisis, and we must start to look at new ways of doing things,” he told forum participants. “We can do this together, and we can only do this together.”