Thursday, November 13, 2008

Washington Street & I-65/70 Update: Pedestrian Safety

I've already stated my opinions on this design in a previous post but now that much progress has been made, it's time for another look. My observations:

It seems odd that the Washington Street ramps were opened to traffic when there is clearly so much work to be done on Washington. It's interesting how it's perfectly acceptable to open the exit ramps without any permanent signage and with traffic signals hanging on wires (hopefully temporary). The signals for westbound traffic at Davidson Street are angled to face southeast. I'm not sure what that is about. But why is it viewed as acceptable to open the ramps without any pedestrian signals in place? One would presume that they will be part of the project, but perhaps it's not a big priority since there have never been pedestrian signals (at least in recent memory) at either of the intersections to the east (Southeastern/Shelby) or to the west (College). There's also little to no street lighting to help drivers see pedestrians, especially in the area of the entrance ramp to the interstate.

I also realized that I was being naive when I mistakenly believed that the exit ramp from the interstate might only contain three lanes, as was the case when it opened. Apparently, work wasn't completed, and by the looks of it, the ramp will have the five lanes originally proposed. When I asked the question earlier, I was told that five lanes were needed to make sure traffic didn't back up onto the mainline of the interstate, which would in fact be a serious concern. But how is the ramp functioning now with only three lanes? Is it backing up onto the freeway? If not, why do we need the five lanes, which will make the area even less inviting and more dangerous for pedestrians to cross?

I've walked across the intersection of Washington and Southeastern, and to cross Southeastern, a pedestrian must travel approximately 80 feet. This is a ridiculously long crossing distance. With Southeastern being realigned to a 90-degree orientation to Washington, a shorter crossing distance should've been achieved. However, the wide curb radii at the corners, which will facilitate fast turning movements was apparently more important than limiting crossing distance. Both the long crossing distance and the speed of turning vehicles work together to greatly increase the danger to pedestrians.

It's a continuing reminder that pedestrians are an afterthought, if they are even considered it all, in transportation projects in Indianapolis. I drove through the project area at 9:30 p.m. tonight, and I saw multiple pedestrian parties, both individuals and groups walking along Washington. Why is it alright to ignore their needs?

And if pedestrian needs are not considered one mile from the heart of downtown, what are the chances for us to see improvements elsewhere in the County, such as 56th & Georgetown, where a mother and her daughter were killed trying to cross the street on their way home from a grocery store two nights ago? Channel 13 reported that the police concluded that the driver was at no fault and that the pedestrians' actions were to blame, but they also went on to elaborate on the area's lack of not only sidewalks, pedestrian signals, or crosswalks, but also any street lighting that might have helped avoid this tragedy. How many pedestrians need die, and how many people who want to live in a community with balanced transportation options and safe, walkable neighborhoods need move away from, or avoid relocating to, Indianapolis, before we realize that our economic future is in jeopardy due to our automobile-only built environment?


thundermutt said...

It's a mix: streets should be well-designed for everyone, and people using them on foot, on bikes, or in cars shouldn't be stupid.

Earlier this week, I was driving north on Emerson Avenue/Way, going down the s-curve hill to Fall Creek. It was just after dark. I caught a glimpse of something out of place, but couldn't figure it out right away. Traveling at the posted speed (40) I was almost on the bicyclist before I realized I needed to change lanes. S/he was wearing dark clothes and had no lights on, and was out in the middle of the lane. What I saw was only the reflection of my headlights from the spokes.

That's just stupid on the part of the bicyclist. Had I been slightly less attentive, or older with slower reflexes or worse night vision, or if I were boxed in by other traffic, I might have been the driver the police said wasn't at fault for the fatality.

Idyllic Indy said...

Thanks for your comments.

It's certainly true that pedestrians and bicyclists need take responsibility for their actions, and need to make smart choices to avoid their own demise, but that should be no excuse for designing our streets properly to serve all modes.

Who hasn't been on a bike and had to at some point, unexpectedly, ride home after dark, without the proper lighting and clothing? I certainly have, not that people shouldn't plan ahead.

Of course, if there were a grid street system in that area, the bicyclist would have had another option other than driving in a vehicle lane on a primary arterial designed exclusively for auto traffic.

thundermutt said...

I generally agree.

It's a picky point, but there is a grid outside the old city...the old mile-apart county roads that have become the primary arterials in the suburban townships and counties (Emerson is one such).

The retrofit solution "out there" would be multi-use paths where the sidewalks end, similar to the ones Hazel Dell Parkway has.

A bike that's ridden on for more than occasional recreational day use should just have a light...period. Or at least a reflector...the one I almost hit didn't even have that.

Deuteronomy said...

I know this is now old, but I have to support thundermutt on this. I am an avid bicyclist for getting around and generally support any effort to make streets multi-modal. However, for a cyclist to have no reflectors or lights while biking on a serpentine road at night seems suicidal. Bicyclists should not "unexpectedly" ride home after dark with no reflective clothing or lights: lights should be permanently attached to the bicycle. It's hard to have any more sympathy for a driver who "unexpectedly" found all their head- and taillights missing or burnt out on a car. If they were to drive at night, they'd be asking for it. One can hardly imagine the profound guilt most motorists would feel after hitting a pedestrian, even after the police deemed them not at fault. I've had a few close shaves that I can only attribute to youthful reflexes.