In one of many recent news stories on "distracted walking," WPVI-TV Philadelphia reports that a "girl chatting on FaceTime [was] struck and critically injured by [a] car in Abington." As Lloyd Alter, writing for TreeHugger, summarizes it:

There was a serious crash recently near Philadelphia; a fourteen year old girl was crossing a street in a crosswalk, in a school zone, with signs posted on posts and tent signs all over the place saying that pedestrians have right of way. There are no trees, no obstructions, no reason whatsoever that the driver couldn't see that there was a pedestrian.

And yet, unsurprisingly, the WPVI-TV article focuses almost solely on the fact that the now-critically injured girl was on her iPhone when she was hit and implies that she is to blame for her injuries. In the 27-sentence article, there are only two mentions of the driver who struck this high schooler—one to explain that the driver stopped the car after the crash and the other mentioning that "no charges have been filed at this time." 

In the article, we read about how bystanders dutifully called 911, how first responders rushed the girl to the hospital, and even how school counselors "have been made available to her peers." However, nowhere do we read that local officials are reassessing the design of the road on which this crash occurred to prevent future crashes from happening.

The road where the crash took place. Notice the painted crosswalk and crossing signs... But also notice the lack of on-street parking or points of interest on the side of the road, and the large corner radius, all of which encourage speeding. (Source: Google Earth)

The road where the crash took place. Notice the painted crosswalk and crossing signs... But also notice the lack of on-street parking or points of interest on the side of the road, and the large corner radius, all of which encourage speeding. (Source: Google Earth)

The WPVI-TV article explains that the speed limit on this road is 25 miles per hour, and that it goes down to 15 when school is in session. But it also explains that the girl was on her way to a school activity when she was struck. This reveals the clear failure of signage and speed limits to protect people walking from dangerous crashes: First, if the driver had obeyed the crosswalk signage present, he would not have hit the child. Second, if the intention of the speed limit in this location is to prevent crashes (especially fatal or near-fatal ones, and injuries to vulnerable young people) and make it safe and easy for pedestrians to cross, why would the 15 mph speed limit only apply during school hours?

Surely there are plenty of other children like this one going to school outside of typical hours for an activity, not to mention people who live in the neighborhood who might be crossing the street for any number of reasons. Doesn't everyone walking here deserve the safety that the 15 mph speed limit intends to provide? Local leaders could attempt to lower the speed limit to 15 mph at all times but on a road like this one, there's a low likelihood that most drivers would obey it.

In the end, this story is a textbook example of the many flawed ways municipalities try to create safe streets: painted crosswalks, signage, removal of view obstructions, and of course, fear mongering that tells people death is the penalty for being on their phones while walking. The only true way to create safe streets where pedestrians, bikers and drivers are protected from harm is by narrowing them to the point where cars must drive slowly. 

Learn more about the benefits of narrow streets and how to build them.

(Top photo source: Leidolv Magelssen)


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