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Pedestrian's risks and solutions for walking safety

November 21, 2023
<p>Students walking between West Akers and West Holmes Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2021.</p>

Students walking between West Akers and West Holmes Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2021.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

Pedestrian safety is becoming a topic of concern as crashes involving pedestrians are on the rise.

According to state law enforcement data, Michigan has seen a 17% increase in pedestrian-involved fatalities between 2020 and 2022.

Recently, a pedestrian death occurred near MSU's campus in early November when a pedestrian was struck and killed by a vehicle at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and University Drive. 

When discussing East Lansing Police Department's, or ELPD, role in pedestrian safety, Chad Pride, the ELPD deputy chief, said that education and enforcement must follow the written traffic laws that protect pedestrians. 

“Enforcement is one thing … but then there is also the education piece as well,” Pride said. 

Dr. Timothy Gates, MSU professor in civil engineering, said pedestrians are much more vulnerable than people in motor vehicles. 

Dr. Peter Savolainen, MSU professor in the Department of Civil and Environment Engineering, said that the more cars being driven in the recent past are bigger, with an increase in SUVs and trucks, creating a more fatal result during a collision with pedestrians and cars.

However, the experts explained there are many reasons to keep walking and bike use as part of the transportation infrastructure in the state

“We are in a climate crisis, so we need to make it safer for people to bike and walk for their daily transportation," East Lansing Transportation Commission member and communications and advocacy director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists Matt Penniman said. 

Savolainen explained the United States is much more spread out than many European countries that normalize pedestrian street use. 

“Oftentimes walking and biking aren’t as viable of an option,” Savolainen said. “But there’s been a big push in more urbanized areas to help make roads safer and more accessible for peds and bikes.” 

Both Gates and Savolainen see the threat that pedestrians face, but solutions to mitigate this can be very costly. 

Savolainen said roads should be designed with pedestrians in mind, because as traffic gets heavier, which is a pattern Michigan infrastructure is seeing, the idea of adding lanes to a road makes it less safe for pedestrians. 

Gates touched upon how non-permanent pedestrian crossing signs that are posted in the middle of the street are a more cost-effective safety precaution. However he said that in the winter seasons, the signs become ineffective because snow plows run over the rubber bases in the middle of the road, knocking them down. 

Penniman said other effective solutions include a "no turn on red" sign can be for pedestrians because there would be no cars turning on a cross walk when pedestrians are crossing.

Pride discussed how the ELPD is looking to hire more officers to patrol the streets for safety purposes as the budget this fiscal year is providing more funds to officers than last year.  

When tragic events such as a pedestrian death happens, Pride said the  ELPD takes to focusing more on that area. This could be using a “problem solving kit” that the department uses, which is when an officer takes ownership of specific areas and addresses issues that are in the areas. 

 Gates said pedestrian safety can also be improved when taking accountability for oneself. This could include being more aware of their surroundings and not being one of “the walking zombies,” such as paying attention to the road in front of the pedestrian. 

This can be avoided by not looking at phones while on the commute to class or work, according to Gates.

Other tips provided were to chart routes before walking to make sure there are safe cross walks and having lights on the front and rear of a bike.

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“We will continue to focus on making sure that our community is safe," Pride said. 

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