Feb 15, 2024 - News

The hidden truth behind pedestrian crashes

Who is to blame when a car strikes a pedestrian is largely dependent on where in Columbus the crash occurs, a new study by two OSU researchers finds.

Why it matters: Such crashes are startlingly frequent, but researchers suggest the city can mitigate these road hazards through safer infrastructure choices.

State of play: Columbus is relying on its Vision Zero safety plan to improve streets and intersections over the coming years.

What they did: Researchers Jonathan Stiles and Harvey Miller studied pedestrian crash data in Franklin County between 2015 and 2019.

  • An eye-popping 2,757 crashes occurred in that time frame, an average of more than one per day.

What they found: Drivers were generally more likely to be found at fault, particularly in areas like downtown with many traffic signals and crosswalk markings.

  • That changed, however, for crashes on "stroads" like Sullivant Avenue and Broad Street ā€” which feature a perilous mix of heavy traffic, higher speeds and fewer crossing signals.
  • Pedestrians are more likely to face blame when hit in these areas.

Between the lines: The dividing line of crash blame is also socioeconomic, the researchers learned.

  • In the Hilltop and South Linden, both poorer neighborhoods with several busy arterial roads, pedestrians are far more likely to be found at fault than elsewhere in Columbus.
  • City data published in the Vision Zero plan shows a disproportionate percentage of pedestrian trauma patients are Black.

What they're saying: If Columbus wants safer streets, it needs to rethink its approach to traffic design, Miller tells Axios.

  • Thinner roads, for example, would discourage speeding and free up space for sidewalks and bike lanes.
  • "It's ironic, perhaps even hypocritical, to basically give pedestrians so little infrastructure and then blame them when they do something which we consider to be irrational," he says.
  • "We basically have prioritized the needs of drivers above everyone else."

What we're watching: Besides Columbus' work with Vision Zero, residents will be asked to support a November ballot item known as LinkUs to fund more infrastructure improvements such as new bike paths and sidewalks.

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