PHOENIX — Why is it so hard to get people – even police officers - to use crosswalks?
The answer is complicated, especially in the City of Phoenix.
Phoenix is the “worst large city” in the nation for fatal car crashes, according to Street Transportation Director Kini Knudson. A report from his office showed nearly half of the Phoenix’s fatal car crashes (2014-2018) involved pedestrians, and most of the people who died are hit mid-block.
At the same time, a pedestrian safety video posted on social media by the Phoenix Police Department last month is now being denounced online by residents as “misguided” and “patronizing.”
“It is focused on blaming and shaming pedestrians when that's not going to help lower the high death rate in the city,” said Eric Wise, a community road safety advocate.
The video depicted one man stepping off the curb mid-block in front of Phoenix Police Headquarters while being honked at by an oncoming car. Another man showed how to press the button to activate the nearby signaled crosswalk. The post said. “You don't need to risk your life, use the crosswalk.”
Caught on Camera – Cops Outside the Crosswalk
Several online commenters noted the police department’s own officers often fail to use the crosswalks in the very same spot. So, the ABC15 Investigators posted our cameras outside police headquarters for two days to see the size of the problem.
ABC15 cameras captured Chief Jeri Williams using the crosswalks near headquarters, but dozens of her officers crossed mid-block on both Washington Street and 6th Avenue. Many crossed to save steps on the way to their cars parked on the opposite curb. We counted 23 jaywalking officers in just one hour.
Phoenix police responded to ABC15’s questions about the officers not heeding the social media video’s advice. A department spokesman wrote crossing mid-block is legal in Phoenix as long as pedestrians yield to cars and there are not adjacent intersections with signaled crosswalks.
“It doesn't matter if you're a police officer or just a normal person trying to walk around, people will cross the road,” Wise said. “There's no city on the planet where people only cross that crosswalk.”
Call for More Crosswalks
Wise said Phoenix was built for cars, not pedestrians. He pointed to his own north-central neighborhood as an example of a place where he said there were not enough crosswalks that are marked or signaled.
ABC15 found an apartment complex at 18th Street and Northern Avenue with a bus stop less than a block down on the opposite side of the road. ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius walked from the complex to the nearest marked crosswalk and back to the bus stop. The walk took 12.5 minutes and covered more than .6 miles.
“If you live there, like a lot of people do, there's no way to cross the road without jaywalking,” Wise said. “You have to run across, wait in the middle, and then run across again.”
While mid-block crossing is typically legal, it can be more dangerous. According to a 2020 City of Phoenix Safety Analysis Report, 75% of all pedestrian crashes happened at/near intersections but 64% of fatal pedestrian crashes involved crossing mid-block.
When you look at Phoenix's worst 25 street segments for injury crashes, 70 percent of them had limited pedestrian crossing opportunities for significant distances of at least half a mile, the report said.
“At some point, people will choose convenience over safety,” said David Tapley with Phoenix Spokes People, which advocates for safer multi-modal transportation.
In 2020, 65 pedestrians were killed in Phoenix traffic crashes, according to Phoenix’s Street Transportation Department. The number of pedestrian collisions and fatalities that year was at its lowest level in Phoenix in five years. Data for 2021 was not available.
When collisions happen, Tapley said, often people are too quickly blamed for not following the rules properly.
“But in almost any other situation, you'd say, well, maybe we should redesign or look at the product itself, not just say people aren't smart enough,” Tapley added.
Tapley and Wise both said Phoenix needed more crosswalks, but they added crosswalks should be placed where people naturally would want to cross the street.
Phoenix’s Road Safety Action Plan
Phoenix Street Transportation Department Director Kini Knudson said he was alarmed by the number of pedestrian fatalities.
ABC15 asked for Knudson’s thoughts on how pedestrian-friendly Phoenix is, and he replied, “I know that we have concerns and issues here in Phoenix.” He added Phoenix is a large and growing city where residents’ needs are shifting.
“Part of it is working from where we're at today to be able to make our infrastructure safer for people who want to use it tomorrow,” Knudson said.
He explained recent pedestrian-friendly improvements. In March, the city installed its 75th HAWK, which is a beaconed crosswalk that can be activated when a pedestrian wants to cross a busy street.
Last week, the Phoenix City Council voted to add sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements near 56th Street and Camelback where a county judge was hit and killed on her morning walk in February.
A multi-year project called the Road Safety Action Plan aims to reduce serious injuries and deaths on Phoenix streets for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
“That involves looking at our built environment, looking at behaviors of all roadway users, and looking at proven strategies that will help address serious injury fatalities on our roadways,” Knudson said.
Knudson plans to present the action plan for a city council vote in the fall with the concept of ‘Vision Zero’to drop the number of traffic crashes to zero.