Plans are useless without follow-through, but having the state Department of Transportation go all out to improve pedestrian safety will save lives.
That is, if the state can partner successfully with local communities.
A five-year plan released this month demonstrates a willingness not just to try, but to succeed. The Department of Transportation plans everything from driver and pedestrian awareness campaigns, gathering precise data and building infrastructure so people can walk without risking life or limb.
Buy-in from entities such as the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County will be critical, because these governments build sidewalks, mark crosswalks, control speeding and otherwise create protected areas for walking. The state has its own work to do, making sure its highways and rural roads have safe routes for pedestrians — including signals and access points to help get walkers through fast-moving traffic without injury. Both local and state police can focus on drunken drivers, another factor in pedestrian crashes.
Much of the work has to be done in cities, though, because that’s where the accidents occur. To prepare the plan, Department of Transportation workers studied 3,903 reported pedestrian crashes in the state from 2012-18. Of those, 79 percent of them caused injuries and 12 percent, or 476 crashes, led to a death. Some 91 percent of the crashes took place on urban streets — with Albuquerque having 37 percent of crashes and Santa Fe in second place.
The work is ongoing, but we agree with officials in Albuquerque who are starting their own pedestrian safety campaign by focusing on getting drivers to slow down. The city is considering bringing back speed vans to place on dangerous streets as a way to get drivers to stop speeding.
Instead of contracts with out-of-state companies, which have proved problematic, the city would buy the vans and run the program itself. Tickets would be relatively cheap, too. While we have opposed speed vans in the past for a number of reasons, including the lack of due process for drivers, Santa Fe should watch the Albuquerque efforts. A local program without expensive contracts could catch drivers who speed and run red lights without taking up valuable officer time.
Speed isn’t the only factor in pedestrian crashes, however. Quick fixes such as ensuring crosswalks are painted properly could happen almost immediately. One suggestion we have in Santa Fe is for city traffic planners to walk across busy roads — too many times, slow or elderly walkers can barely make it across a major thoroughfare in the time allotted. Awareness campaigns will be key to reducing pedestrian deaths and injuries.
Information already collected will be useful in considering next steps. The report details where the unsafe places are for walkers. Santa Fe’s most dangerous street is hardly surprising — it is Cerrillos Road, with 44 crashes and five fatalities over the report period. Those locations should be the first focus of improvements and awareness campaigns.
The plan — as comprehensive as it is — needs more development. Currently, it lacks specific recommendations on infrastructure improvements and no cost estimates. To succeed, it also needs to develop metrics by which to measure progress; evidently, a tracking system is underway. We’d like to see regular reporting periods where citizens learn what has been done — walking paths along rural highways, pedestrian crossing signals installed, awareness campaigns started and the like.
What constitutes success? If New Mexico is first in the nation for pedestrian deaths, where does the state want to be after five years? What interventions work? Speeding tickets, whether from cameras or officers? Driver awareness campaigns so that creatures of the car remember that bicyclists or pedestrians are on the road? Constructing additional pedestrian overpasses or underpasses? Simply reminding people of traffic laws? In Santa Fe, many drivers don’t even remember to slow or stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. That’s not the case in other cities.
The state Department of Transportation, led by Secretary Mike Sandoval, has put together an impressive plan that can save lives. With cities, towns and counties working together, our state can save lives and make walking — whether for health or necessity — safe again.