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Above, a cartoon by local artist Norm Vance illuminates a very real concern for Hood River. Below, a photo by columnist Holle Lund of the intersection at May and 13th with Jackson Park in the background.

Safety at May and 13th

When I was asked to write an article to go along with this cartoon, I immediately searched for traffic statistics and research on the effectiveness (and ineffectiveness) of traffic controls. Then it occurred to me that you don’t need to be an expert to realize there’s a problem at May and 13th.

Instead, I ask anyone familiar with this Hood River intersection to take this brief quiz:

1. As you drive south on 13th Street—on your way to Rosauer’s—how often do you pause to watch for pedestrians at May Street?

2. As you drive west along May Street, how often do you pause to watch for pedestrians as you turn left onto 13th?

I’ve spent more than five years teaching and conducting research on pedestrian issues, and even I don’t do well on that quiz. There are just too many other things to be paying attention to—like whether or not you’re about to get sideswiped by an SUV.

The problem, though, is this: May and 13th is the main access point for a public school, a public swimming pool, and a very popular park—three major attractions for neighborhood children. Compared to adults, children are at a much higher risk of being involved in a pedestrian-related accident. They have more difficulty processing complex situations, have less experience dealing with traffic, and are less likely to be seen by drivers because, well, they’re smaller.

They’re also more likely to die from their injuries. According to data compiled by the Oregon Safe Kids Coalition, pedestrian injuries remain one of the leading causes of unintentional injury-related death among children. These injuries are most likely to occur in residential areas and on local roads that are straight, paved and dry, and in areas with high traffic volumes and few pedestrian control devices. They’re also more likely to occur in the evening, between 4 and 8pm.

Of course, we could just start (or continue) driving our children everywhere so that they never have to venture across these unsafe intersections. We certainly wouldn’t be alone—nationwide, fewer than 10 percent of children walk to school, and the second most common reason that parents give for driving their kids to school, second only to distance, is traffic safety.

Here’s some other nationwide statistics to consider though. Nearly one-third of adolescents are completely sedentary. Physical inactivityis responsible for the rapid rise in obesity, along with heart disease and diabetes, and results in an estimated 200,000 deaths per year. Obesity has doubled among preschool children and adolescents since the 1970s, and tripled among children ages 6 to 11 years. Sedentary children also have a 75 percent chance of becoming sedentary adults.

May and 13th is also a key intersection for the hospital, numerous doctors’ offices and other health services—important destinations for our older neighbors. In 2005, older pedestrians (ages 70 plus) accounted for more than one-fifth of all pedestrian fatalities, and 6 percent of all pedestrian injuries. Senior citizens are even more likely than children to die from their injuries.

Finally, I know how we love to blame “the tourists” for our traffic problems, and in certain cases I would agree. They tend to have different attitudes toward pedestrians (they don’t have to worry about running over their neighbor), they’re unfamiliar with local customs and traffic controls, and everyone—tourists and locals alike—tends to become more frustrated. But pedestrian safety at May and 13th is not just a seasonal issue

For more information on evaluating and improving the safety of your neighborhood streets, here are a couple of good starting points: walkinginfo.org and bicyclinginfo.org.

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