Pedestrian fatalities are up all around the United States—and New Mexico is no exception. We’re on track to have one of the worst rates in the country, and one of the worst years we’ve had in a while. Seventy-eight people were killed this year, and that number doesn’t count December. Better Burque blogger Scot Key has been following the problem for years, and he talked with KUNM about the reality of these deaths.
SCOT KEY: If you look at any news story, there’s an interesting focus on how much traffic gets backed up because of this incident. And there’s a real lack of emphasis on the humans. And I don’t want to make this all—it’s not a news media problem. It’s just, they’re kind of a reflection of how society is seeing it.
The tendency is to take the humans out. You know, The vehicle hits a pedestrian, as opposed to a human is involved with interacting with another human. But there’s also a lack of coverage of the trauma that happens to drivers who are involved in these horrible things.
KUNM: So you’ve researched this extensively. Is there any particular story—or maybe a pattern—that stands out in your mind.
KEY: My work now is looking through police crash reports and things like that, and I’m sure your listeners can imagine how horrific those descriptions are. But they are. If we just had people reading snippets—and that’s kind of what I’m trying to do at the blog now, is if we just kind of had excerpts from these reports—not just to be graphic and not just to, you know, scare people, but to leave the images in mind of what’s actually happening here. As opposed to, “Man, the traffic was so bad, I guess some guy got hit. I had to wait like 30 minutes,” instead of having that kind of reaction, I think the behavior would change.
KUNM: The Albuquerque Police Department’s response to this is that pedestrians need to stop jaywalking and use crosswalks. What do you make of that response? Is it the pedestrian’s fault when they’re hurt or killed? And what have you found in your research?
KEY: There’s many aspects to this, and that’s a very simplistic answer. That’s the short answer. And the longer answer is that, yes, there are people walking our roadways who do not use the crosswalk and who are hit. There are also people using the crosswalks who are hit. There are dangers of going and using crosswalks that people who are walking know about, and that leads to less compliance of using crosswalks.
There are also inadequate crosswalks. There are distances between crosswalks that never get any notice by police, that make it unlikely that they would be used because they’re so far apart. Central Avenue is an excellent example of that east of Louisiana.
You know, you’re asking humans to do things that they don’t do. You’re asking them to walk four minutes down a road, cross at the right crosswalk, and then walk four minutes back in the other direction to get to the Circle K. There’s a consideration of, “Well, you want to stay alive, right?” Would you really do that yourself? And chances are, no. People just don’t think about that. They’d rather not think about it. It makes it more complicated, and it also makes it a heck of a lot more expensive if you start talking about engineering roadways.
KUNM: What kind of changes would you like to see the city make to help lower this rate?
KEY: My No. 1 thing here, just to pick one, would be no right turns on red. In part because it’s easy, and you think about cost and you think about all this other stuff. Now, would there be blowback to that? Uh, yeah. It would not be free in the political sense of the word. But I think right turns on red, to encourage more crosswalk usage.
I think red-light cameras would probably be No. 2.
KUNM: I mean those are not popular suggestions, no right turns on red and red-light cameras.
KEY: I think we all realize that. And at the same time, we need to think about what’s at the heart of the objection to those things.
I’m not trying to make people feel like they’re being unthinking, but really, if your priority is to get people as efficiently as possible from point A to point B, until you change that priority to injuries and deaths are the No. 1 thing to avoid, I don’t care how fast you’re getting somewhere. Until you have that paradigmatic change, it’s going to be impossible to have any real impact.
KUNM: What kind of behavior should change? What can we all do, pedestrians and drivers, to be safe or to make sure we don’t hurt anyone else?
KEY: I think speed is the No. 1 thing. Being more conscientious, especially drivers because they have the biggest, fastest moving object. But that includes everybody, cyclists, walkers. Everyone needs to slow down. And everyone needs to pay more attention.