Fresh Ideas: It is a matter of life or death

“Cross at the green, not in between” was an anti-jaywalking campaign in the 1950s in New York City. Today in Carson City, the “in between” is especially hazardous for pedestrians. What’s wrong and how can we make it better?

Carson City’s alarming rise in pedestrian fatalities and injuries from vehicle mash-ups mirrors a statewide and national trend. Between 2008 and 2012 in Nevada, 234 pedestrians died and 784 were seriously injured, according to NDOT. Nevada is the seventh most dangerous state for pedestrian accidents, according to web-based 24/7 Wall St. which reports the state’s pedestrian fatality rate “increased by 47.4 percent between 2010 and 2012, among the largest two-year increase and considerably higher than the national increase.”

In Carson City we have some major safety gaps. On Carson Street, with five lanes of north-south traffic, it is challenging for pedestrians and motorists to see each other, even when pedestrians are in the crosswalk at a traffic light. But even more dangerous are crosswalks between traffic signals. Crosswalks give pedestrians false assurance of protection and safety but do not alert motorists to the presence of a pedestrian, especially at night. When I lived in downtown, crossing Carson Street at Telegraph (crosswalk but no traffic signal) required caution, patience and eye contact to make sure drivers in all lanes could see me and yield.

Parts of town where traffic lights are distant from each other are especially hazardous for walkers. On stretches of Highway 50 East there are no crosswalks, and traffic lights are far apart. An additional complication is the lack of sidewalks, so there is no clear pedestrian path apart from the street.

Sheriff Furlong has begun to educate pedestrians and drivers about their shared responsibility for safety. On Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department is conducting a pedestrian crosswalk enforcement operation. Motorists: beware street-crossing pedestrians.

Let’s not play the blame game. Drivers need to be extra cautious of pedestrians, especially at night, and on our wide streets and highways. Pedestrians need to be equally cautious to cross safely and be visible, especially at night. Pedestrians: You may have a legal right of way. But if a driver doesn’t see you, it is no longer a matter of right or wrong. It is a matter of life or death.

Can Carson City do more? Yes. Night sky friendly street lighting can help in parts of Carson with dense population near major highways. We must improve signage to alert locals and visitors. In many of these vulnerable areas, signage is minimal and lights to alert motorists of pedestrian crossings are lacking. Pedestrian-triggered hazard lights similar to those on Stewart Street near the Supreme Court building would help both drivers and walkers on parts of Carson Street and Highway 50 East.

How about extreme public education? Signs on northern California beaches warn about deaths from rogue waves. Attention-grabbing warning signs could be used to educate drivers and pedestrians about dangerous areas and consequences.

Unlike most problems of 2014, improving pedestrian safety seems achievable at the local level. Here’s to a safer 2015, and be careful out there.

Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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