San Diego Police Department targeted pedestrians in a police action last week, handing out 328 tickets to pedestrians on the street. The crackdown was to “teach pedestrians the rules of the road” said Lieutenant Steve Hutchinson, the officer in charge of the program.
According to a KPBS report, Hutchinson said that there have been 13 accidents in which pedestrians were hit by cars. 6 were fatal. Lt. Hutchinson said that “the pedestrian was at fault in 10 of the accidents”.
The SDPD holds an archaic and dangerous mindset that blames the pedestrian. It is an outdated attitude that is a throw-back to the 1960’s. The targeting of pedestrians is misguided. So who should take the blame?
Blame the Street
A pedestrian was severely injured on the 5000 block of El Cajon Blvd (at 50th Street) in January 2013. Below is a photo of this section of El Cajon Blvd. (click the link to read the background story).
As you can see, there are no crosswalks in this section of El Cajon Blvd. In fact, the nearest crosswalk, which is also the nearest traffic signal, is several blocks away.
This section of El Cajon Blvd is 5+ lanes wide, straight, with lane widths designed for speeds of 50+ mph; (the same lane widths are used in highway design). Because there are no traffic signals in this stretch, and separate turn lanes have been added, there are no impediments to the fast flow of traffic. There are no marked crosswalks in this 5 block section, and yet, there is a bus stop on each side of the road. What would you do if you got off the bus and want to cross the street?
The SDPD blames the pedestrian. Yet, it is clear that this street is designed to be dangerous, if not fatal, to pedestrians. What would you do if you wanted to cross the street here? Would you walk the extra blocks to the signal/crosswalk and then backtrack the extra blocks just to cross the street? Or would you take your chances and dart across the street. Not much of a choice, is it?
Streets designed for high speed are inherently dangerous to pedestrians.. Yet, until recently, city street design was based on the Highway Design Manual.
Blame the Driver
The posted speed limit on El Cajon Blvd is 35 mph. However, the street is designed for much higher speeds. Drivers will instinctively drive at a speed that feels comfortable to them. On a street like El Cajon, which is designed for high speeds, the tendency will be to drive faster than 35 mph.
Does that let the driver off the hook? No. Never. 35 mph is too fast to begin with. There is no reason to drive faster than 25 mph on a city street. Faster is extremely dangerous for all users. Drivers must take responsibility.
Remember, every corner is a crosswalk, whether it is marked or not. Cars MUST stop for pedestrians. It’s the law.
Blame the Politicians
Mayor Filner campaigned on making San Diego’s neighborhoods more livable, walkable, and bike friendly. Unfortunately, his predecessors, and some of those still working for the City, worry only about moving cars and traffic through the City.
Mayor Filner is off to a good start, and GSSD fully supports his commitment to livable, walkable, and bike friendly neighborhoods. He’s got a big job ahead of him. GSSD recommends that the Mayor sit down with his Chief of Police to discuss the recent targeting of pedestrians and make policy changes. Then make a public apology and denounce the actions, while at the same time directing the City to study and implement safer streets for ALL users.
So blame the street or engineer for blatant design negligence. Blame the drivers. Blame the police. Blame the politicians. But for goodness sake, don’t blame the injured pedestrian who has the right to expect a safe street and public realm, and who has every right to use it just as much as, if not more so, than any other user.