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Road safety: We need all hands on deck (opinion)

By ThisIsReno

Submitted by Kurt Thigpen

kurt thigpen

I wrote a previous op-ed on pedestrian safety in December, plainly advocating that we as a community need to behave better when walking, driving, and cycling to ensure one another’s safety.

Did I think this would change much? No. But one can hope to change mindsets one person at a time. I have started policing myself when driving and crossing the street, heeding my own advice.

However, I am incredibly devastated and deeply concerned that the pedestrian hit and runs, as well as fatalities, have only increased. After the student at Wooster High School was hit and killed, we had an outpouring of statements from city officials, as well as healthcare organizations like Renown, pleading for folks to slow down.

Let me just say this: we can all agree that the human behavior is something that needs to change to prevent these accidents. I also don’t doubt the best intentions of our local officials and the agencies that have been created to reduce accidents and fatalities.

However, relying on people to behave themselves isn’t going to get us to zero fatalities. Humans are fallible. I’m afraid that that way of thinking just isn’t going to cut it anymore. The system is not working.

I also need to emphasize that I am no expert on this subject. I am merely a concerned citizen. The incident at Wooster High hit close to home for me, as I have a family member that goes there. There are a lot of kids at that school and others that walk to and from school, as well as to other places during breaks. The Washoe County School District reported last week that there have been 25 incidents of students getting hit by cars, 23 of them happening when students were going to and from school. They also mentioned that they’re mapping the data but “don’t have a reason as to why this is happening.”

These fatalities could easily have been you or me. Things are only getting worse. So, I have to ask myself, why hasn’t there been more urgency in terms of response from agencies like RTC,  NDOT and the City of Reno and City of Sparks? We’ve seen statements of course, but where are the solutions? This crisis is a complex issue and my thought is that all key stakeholders need to get in one room to get our arms around this.

If changing human behavior on the road isn’t going to cut it, it’s time we looked at changing our system. Perhaps we look outside our own borders for a solution? For example, Sweden implemented a Vision Zero initiative in the 90s that helped reduce fatalities dramatically over the years.

The approach that they took was not to treat the people as the problem, but the way the system has been engineered. This interview with a Swedish traffic safety strategist outlines perfectly solutions they implemented to change the system and local culture so that the system was safe for people to be in.

They include:

  • Reducing fatalities by reducing the speed limits to 18 mph in urban areas. Also, installing speed bumps.
  • Installing bike lanes with barriers to protect cyclists
  • Installing roundabouts at intersections to force cars to slow down
  • Changing traffic lights so cars aren’t prompted with a caution light when pedestrians are crossing. If pedestrians are crossing, all cars must wait.
  • Installing cameras to discourage bad behavior, with signage leading up to pedestrian areas that there are cameras ahead.
  • Preventing jaywalking, especially in unlit areas, by putting up barriers in medians, thus forcing pedestrians to use the crosswalks. I believe Mira Loma Drive implemented fencing in some of its medians to do just this.

Will this cost money? Sure, but if it saves even one life these changes are more than necessary. These are long-term solutions that we need to be talking about now. We as a community must be proactive to prevent future fatalities and accidents.

Our city and county is growing rapidly, and we must work together to solve this public health crisis. I urge each of you to call your local council person to advocate for change. Every one of us deserves to be safe.

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

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