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.

(10) comments

Katherine Martinez

Most medians in this city are not large enough to accommodate anyone—whether you are homeless, a pan-handler, or whatever your cause is. Either way these folks have become very aggressive over the years swinging their signs violently from side to side, shopping carts in tote, or worse yet risking the life of their pet on that narrow strip of real estate. Driving is becoming a risky proposition around here more and more.

Khal Spencer

Why was Chris Mechel's comment deleted. There was nothing wrong with it.

Comment deleted.
Khal Spencer

The best example of Vision Zero up there is Central Avenue. I was on the Transportation Board (maybe as chair, since I was chair several times) when it was re-designed. We narrowed the travel lanes by providing pedestrian bulbouts and converting what had been wide travel lanes to narrow travel lanes with parallel parking interspersed with those well-marked bulbouts and with other visual stimuli (trees, baskets, etc) that give more of an urban "main street" rather than road feel. The measured 85th percentile speed dropped to actually below the new speed limit of 25 mph. I think it had been 30 or 35 mph. Been too long ago.

As you say, the design and the driver behavior is self-reinforcing. Crossing Central downtown as a pedestrian was like parting the Red Sea.

The flip side was Diamond Drive out near the golf course. The road was widened and bike lanes were added. I was working the improvements in an advisory capacity while on the T Board when the discussions were going on and the community viscerally rejected a road diet that would have slowed traffic down and made it a smaller footprint. Well, we got four lanes, wide bike lanes, and a center median and ... speeding. I constantly saw LAPD up there doing radar enforcement and speeding was epidemic. You put a big, wide road out there without a lot of other interruptions and it telegraphs high speed to users.

We moved to Santa Fe in 2018 so I have not kept up with other aspects of what Los Alamos is doing except that other traffic calming measures were in the works. Designs matter and you have to do less blunt force reinforcement of behavior with instruments such as traffic citations.

One can accuse City Different drivers of having little respect for traffic law and I see plenty of examples of that. But look at design: we have a four lane US 84/285 barrelling down from the north at 55 mph right onto St. Francis Drive, a wide multilane road. I see little evidence of people slowing down to reasonable urban speeds till one is well south of DeVargas Mall. There is not a clear and blunt transition between a rural highway and a city street, so people drive it like a highway.

Richard Reinders

Getting the legislature to pass a law allowing police and prosecutors to review cell phone activity at the time of the accident will be a major game changer. The person killed last year or early this year by Christus hospital crossing St Michael was most likely caused by distracted cell text phone driving, but the family could not get the police or prosecutors to go there. Checking phone in all accidents pedestrian and other vehicles should be SOP, it would eliminate many accidents

Khal Spencer

Some sort of implied consent law would be great, similar to DUI, but expect a huge amount of pushback from the ACLU, other privacy foundation types, etc. One would have to be able to do a search on time online rather than on content, presumably. That said, phones are not the only distractions.

Steve Albert

As someone who lives near Cerrillos Road, all the improved crosswalks and intersections will not save lives. We have a homeless population who think nothing of jaywalking and have no sense of personal responsibility.

Khal Spencer

I have to laugh. When I drive the speed limit on Cerrillos, it is obvious we have a motorist population that thinks nothing of speeding and has no sense of personal responsibility.

Khal Spencer

I shake my head in disbelief when I read this editorial. The most important idea, Vision Zero design, is missing from the discussion. Maybe its because most of us grew up in a car culture and don't know anything else. I think the editorial board of the New Mex needs to do some field trips walking our urban highways.

The main thing we have to do is to change the transportation paradigm from one of moving cars as quickly and efficiently as possible (level of service) in and through cities to one of moving cars in a way that does not endanger non-motorists. Designs will follow. Its called Vision Zero, and the U.S. is decades behind much of Europe while New Mexico seems yet again to be in the backwater of the United States. You have to slow urban traffic down so crashes are not catastrophic and only allow high speeds where you have isolated vehicle traffic from pedestrians and other non-motorists.

When you build wide, fast roads like Central, Louisiana, etc., in Albuquerque and St. Francis and Cerrillos in Santa Fe, people do the logical thing. They drive fast. They change lanes. They see the obvious: other cars. Couple that with at-grade pedestrian crossings at great distances from each other to seemingly promote jaywalking, and you have the ideal designs to kill pedestrians. It really is that simple. Speed enforcement rather than proper design has been shown to fail over and over again.

Like Dan Frazier, I don't have much confidence in this latest "we will study this more" approach. We know what we need to know but don't have the political will to implement it for obvious reasons: most of us still drive cars and we don't want to be slowed down.

Andrew Lucero

Getting panhandlers off of medians is also a good idea. I can't tell you how many times I have seen them almost get hit or cause an accident because they interfere with traffic. Medians should also be off limits to Newspaper Vendors, People marketing their businesses and people holding political signs. People on medians is a serious public safety issue.

Dan Frazier

A plan is a good start. But I am not optimistic. There have doubtless been other similar plans, and, from what I see, very little in the way of follow-through, either by the state or the cities. It just seems like so much window-dressing.

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