More than 6,000 pedestrians are killed every year on American streets, according to a report issued by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, representing an enormous 50 percent increase from the first part of the decade. In Ohio, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reports that pedestrian deaths spiked in 2017 and has fortunately been in decline since.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Fatal Crash Summary
Closer to home, there is concern that the Mahoning Valley is following the national trend of increased pedestrian fatalities. In 2019 after a summer that saw multiple pedestrian fatalities resulting from traffic crashes, Boardman Fire Chief Mark Pitzer expressed his concerns about the number of pedestrian fatalities that occurred in the township. Though the concern is coming from the right place, the causes that influence the outcomes these pedestrian traffic crashes are misplaced—it is unfair that pedestrians should shoulder the burden of public safety alone. Communities have roles to play to ensure that infrastructure is in place so that pedestrians and motorists are able to share our streets and coexist safely.
In a story published in January of this year, the focus once again was on Boardman regarding two pedestrian fatalities within the month, which was already 50% of the fatalities recorded in Mahoning County in 2019. What’s different about this accounting of the situation is the recognition that infrastructure was not present to allow the pedestrians to travel safely: “On both roads [Glenwood Ave. and Lockwood Blvd.], there are stretches with no sidewalks and speed limits are at least 35 mph, and street lights are scarce.” On October 10, a third pedestrian, Leon Witiver, was killed in a traffic crash on Market St.
Trumbull County has also experienced its share of tragic pedestrian fatalities. In September, Jeffrey Stankevich, 63, of Warren was struck by Gary N. Jack, 63, of Cortland while both were traveling on Elm Rd. NE in Howland Township. And there was another in July.
There are many strategies communities have rallied around to improve pedestrian safety. Several were shared during a special virtual event hosted by HCP and Eastgate with national transportation writer Angie Schmitt about her new book, Right of Way: Race, Class and the Silent Crisis of Pedestrian Deaths in America. Reducing speed limits, especially in densely populated areas, improving lighting, adding or repairing sidewalks, installing high visibility crosswalks and crossing signals were a few of the strategies mentioned. Schmitt shared examples of communities participating in “tactical urbanism” or “DIY Urbanism” projects, which are temporary demonstration projects that allow residents to reimagine public spaces to become more people-focused and advocate for longer term change. Many of these “planning by doing” projects are low cost and can yield high returns on the investment.
They also can be a lot of fun.
One strategy in the Tactical Urbanist’s tool kit is the installation of creative crosswalks. An NPR article about the recent installation of creative crosswalks in Rochester, NY states that:
With pedestrian deaths in the U.S. at a 30-year high, urban planners say, finding new ways to protect people from cars is becoming more urgent.
Intersections have had a pretty standard look in the United States for decades. The blank square of pavement, the white lines of crosswalks. Increasingly, urban designers and transportation planners say colorful crosswalks and engaging sidewalks lead to safer intersections, stronger neighborhoods and better public health.
In another article examining the growing phenomenon of creative crosswalks, Katie Pyzak writing for SmartCities explains the multitude of benefits these bright spots bring to cities:
Cities often install creative crosswalks as an artistic community enhancement, or even a municipal branding effort, but they also can have safety benefits over the standard white stripes. Drivers tend to notice patterns and bright colors more than the tried-and-true white paint on asphalt. As Austin’s creative crosswalk website succinctly puts it: in addition to being fun, they can raise awareness of pedestrian safety.”
This blend of fun and function is exactly why partners on the HCP Active Transportation team had in mind when they set out to design and install their own creative crosswalks, and decided to start with schools. Many districts throughout the Mahoning Valley have been working on creating active transportation plans for the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program. Schools were the perfect pilot location to amplify these efforts, and to respond to the unsettling fact that “every hour, about two children age 19 and under are injured or killed after being struck by a vehicle while walking,” according to the Safe Kids Worldwide 2020 Child Pedestrian Safety Study.
This first phase of bringing creative crosswalks to the Mahoning Valley has been a success. Meet the partners and watch the transformation of these crosswalks from black and white and invisible to bright and colorful and visible.
Installed October 2020
Boardman Township Planning and Zoning, Boardman Township Road Department, YSUScape, Michelle Gabriel, Royce Umberger
Robinwood Elementary School, Afton Ave., Boardman Twp., OH
Stadium Elementary School, Stadium Drive and Westview, Boardman Twp., OH
Installed October 2020
Howland Township Planning and Zoning, Howland Township Road Department, YSU Graphic Design Program, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, Trumbull Art Gallery, and Howland High School Students
Howland Middle School, Brewster and E. Market St., Howland Twp., OH
Volunteers Make Crosswalks Pop
October 17 Tribune Chronicle ORCHID & ONIONS
ORCHID: To the Howland High School students and artists from Trumbull Art Gallery in Warren who spent last weekend painting two crosswalks by Howland Middle School on South Street SE near Market Street. The group used paw and tiger-stripe stencils for the designs created by art students at Youngstown State University to add a bit of class and touch of color to the crosswalks. Also, kudos to YSU students for their involvement and to township officials who sought and received a grant from the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley to fund the project.
Installed November 2019
Trumbull County Combined Health District, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, City of Warren Road Department, YSU Graphic Design Program
Harding High School, Panther Ave., Warren, OH