A federally funded study focusing on Little Rock and Jonesboro will serve as a blueprint for low-cost measures that can be employed statewide to reduce pedestrian deaths, an increasing percentage of roadway fatalities, study sponsors say.
Recent data show a sharp increase in overall traffic deaths in the United States -- topping 40,000 in 2017 for the second year in a row, according to the latest unofficial estimates.
Pedestrians are an increasing percentage of the road-related death toll, both nationally and in Arkansas.
Pedestrian deaths now account for 16 percent of roadway deaths nationally, or about 6,000, up from 11 percent a few years ago, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
In Arkansas, 21 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2017, a nearly 17 percent increase from the previous year, according to association estimates.
"Two consecutive years of 6,000 pedestrian deaths is a red flag for all of us in the traffic safety community," Jonathan Adkins, the association's executive director, said in a statement last month marking the organization's annual Spotlight on Highway Safety report. "These levels are no= longer a blip but unfortunately a sustained trend. We can't afford to let this be the new normal."
The Arkansas pedestrian safety study is concentrating on reducing pedestrian fatalities at uncontrolled crossing locations and intersections that lack traffic signals by adopting low-cost measures with known safety benefits.
The Federal Highway Administration set aside $100,000 in incentive money through its State Transportation Innovation Council to develop corridor studies to identify and implement innovations at three locations in Little Rock and Jonesboro. The cities will split the required local match contribution, which could be up to $20,000.
The locations are a section of Cantrell Road just east of Mississippi Street in Little Rock and sections of East Johnson Avenue and North Church Street in Jonesboro.
The Cantrell Road section was identified by concerns voiced by residents who live in the area, said Casey Covington, deputy director of Metroplan, the metropolitan planning organization in central Arkansas, and a member of the council.
Cantrell is a five-lane thoroughfare through that part of Little Rock. A largely residential section, including an apartment complex, is on the north side of the road, also known as Arkansas 10, and a largely retail section is on the south side. About 32,000 vehicles daily travel that section, according to Arkansas Department of Transportation data.
In Jonesboro, East Johnson Avenue is a five-lane road bisecting an area that includes the campus of Arkansas State University on the south side and a residential area used by students on the north side. It carries about 20,000 vehicles daily, according to state data.
North Church Street is a two-lane road that carries about 9,400 vehicles a day. The street separates a community center and park from a residential area.
All three have a common problem: pedestrians crossing the road at uncontrolled locations such as the middle of a block and intersections without traffic signals, factors that the Federal Highway Administration says account for the majority of pedestrian deaths.
Pedestrians take the risk because of inadequate or inconvenient crossing facilities for pedestrians, according to the agency.
All three corridors have distinct profiles that once the study is complete other cities can use as a resource on how pedestrian safety can be addressed on similar corridors within their jurisdictions, said Erica Tait, director of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Transportation Planning Commission, the metropolitan planning organization for the Jonesboro region.
"They will be able to study and learn some best practices and deploy them statewide," she said.
Those best practices include:
• Road diets -- Reduce vehicle speeds and the number of lanes pedestrians cross and create areas to add new pedestrian crossings. For example, a four-lane, undivided road can be reduced to two through lanes and a center left-turn lane. The freed-up space can be converted to parking, bicycle lanes, bus lanes or pedestrian islands. A study in Orlando, Fla., of a similar road diet found traffic crashes fell 34 percent.
• Pedestrian hybrid beacons -- Not quite a full traffic signal at an intersection, this device that features two red lights and a yellow light that can be deployed in the middle of a block and activated by a pedestrian. The device can reduce pedestrian-involved crashes by 70 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
• Pedestrian refuge islands -- They allow pedestrians a safe place to stop at the midpoint of a road before crossing the remaining distance, a feature that the federal agency said is helpful for older pedestrians and others with limited mobility.
• Raised crosswalks -- They act as a speed bump but when designed as a long, flat raised area of the road are known as speed tables. They are called raised crosswalks when designated as a pedestrian crossing. Studies have shown raised crosswalks to reduce the incidence of crashes up to 65 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
• Crosswalk visibility enhancements -- Lighting and enhanced signs and markings can help motorists detect pedestrians, especially at night.
The study is expected to determine if any of those options are feasible on the three corridors, Tait said.
The East Johnson corridor has been studied in the past, but Tait said nothing came of it.
"There have been some challenges with regard to traffic volume and speed along the corridor, and determining what type of accommodations should be made, and which accommodations will be most safe for pedestrians," Tait said.
A Section on 03/19/2018
Print Headline: Traffic study aims to cut pedestrian deaths