BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
There has been a recent spate of fatal pedestrian vs. vehicle collisions — four pedestrians have been killed by cars so far in the Treasure Valley this year, including a 10-year-old boy.
Despite that, overall pedestrian-vehicle accidents are generally down in Boise since 2019, according to data obtained via a public records request.
“We have seen a downward trend,” said Kyle Wills, a Boise Police corporal assigned to the motorcycle traffic unit. “Every year, there are pedestrian vs. vehicle crashes in the city of Boise, just because we have a large population, lot of schools, and a lot of pedestrians, and a very vibrant downtown life.”
Wills attributed the decline in part to increased traffic enforcement patrols. He also said drivers in Boise know there are lots of pedestrians. The police department enforces violations by pedestrians and motorists, he said.
But the city has been fortunate to not have may fatal pedestrian crashes. He said in 2022, there were no fatal pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Boise.
The crashes tend to be spread out, Wills said, but police do see more in and around downtown and near schools.
“That's a very small percentage of our crashes,” Wills said. “The vast majority of our crashes would be vehicle vs. vehicle.”
In Meridian, pedestrian-vehicle crashes are also on somewhat of a downward trend. There were 46 such accidents in 2019, which then fell to 24 in 2020 during the first year of the pandemic, and were back up to 37 in 2021 and 36 in 2022.
Meridian Police Traffic Officer Mark Horvath said such crashes are not super frequent. He said most of Meridian’s intersections are pretty well marked.
“The biggest thing for both sides is to be defensive,” Horvath said. “For drivers and pedestrians, to avoid distractions.”
Pedestrian-vehicle crashes can be dangerous for both parties, but especially the person walking. However, several local law enforcement officers offered suggestions for the general public.
“When it's just a pedestrian and you have a vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds and a pedestrian that's in the road, that vehicle is going to cause a lot more damage to that pedestrian,” said Nathan Madenford, sergeant over the crash reconstruction program with the Idaho State Police.
Nationally, U.S. pedestrian fatalities hit their highest level in 40 years in 2021, according to an estimate by the Governors Highway Safety Association. And pedestrian deaths are rising faster than all other traffic deaths nationally, the association reported.
But in 2020, Idaho, Maine and Massachusetts had the lowest pedestrian fatality rates in the nation.
However, there are ways people and drivers can be safer.
“What we see a lot is factors on both sides, factors when it comes to the pedestrian, factors for the vehicles as well,” Madenford said.
Drivers can sometimes focus on watching for cars but not notice pedestrians. For example, when making a left turn with a blinking yellow arrow or turning right on red and not seeing someone in the crosswalk. Nighttime can also be dangerous, especially if the pedestrian is wearing dark clothes. Wearing white and wearing something reflective can help drivers see them.
“The biggest thing for the pedestrians is they just cannot trust drivers,” Madenford said. “If a pedestrian steps out of the road trusting nobody, they'll fare a bit better because they're always going to be looking for the vehicle that may be turning, the vehicle that may not see them.”
For example, pedestrians may think a driver will be able to see them, but if the driver is under the influence, they won’t have the same response as a sober driver.
But in Nampa, the numbers appear to be a little more variable. There were 28 such accidents in 2019, according to data obtained via a public records request. In 2020, there were 18, then 21 in 2021 and then 30 in 2022, according to Nampa Police Lt. Chad Shepard.
Shepard attributed the increase since 2020 to the growth in Nampa’s population.
“There's various reasons for them. The primary reason for our crashes, which we can try to avoid, is inattention,” Shepard said. “And that’s inattention on the pedestrian’s part and the driver’s parts, so cell phone use on either side.”
There have been a few pedestrian-vehicle crashes involving drunk drivers, Shepard said. There are also some inattentive actions, like failing to maintain a lane or obey the traffic signal.
“If people would just take an extra second, like if you're a pedestrian, take the extra seconds, regardless of what the walk signal says …make sure the intersection is clear,” Shepard said. “And for drivers, same situation. Regardless, if you have a green light or a green arrow, just take that second and make sure there's no pedestrians there before you pull out.”
The city of Nampa has been working on improving pedestrian safety.
City Engineer Daniel Badger said the city has been upgrading crosswalks around schools by adding rapid rectangular flashing beacons. The city has also installed HAWK signals, which are traffic signals that will flash red when someone pushes a button to indicate they're preparing to cross.
“The HAWK signals we like to use in areas where there's a lot of ground to cross because it gives them a little bit more protection,” city of Nampa Director of Transportation Crystal Craig said.
The city is also working with the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho to study flashing yellow left turn lights, after a 4-year-old died a few years ago in Nampa, Badger said.
There are ways to plan areas to help increase pedestrian safety and reduce traffic fatalities.
Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho Principal Planner Hunter Mulhall said crash data helps with going back to identify hotspots for crashes and react to what they’re seeing. However, they can also be proactive by looking at the data to find trends that help when moving forward.
One proven safety measure is roundabouts.
“They're more efficient sometimes than the signalized intersection and proven to be safer,” Mulhall said. “You might have a similar number of crashes, but maybe not as serious because you don't have those head-on-type collisions.”
It can be unsafe when planners don’t accommodate for other modes of transportation. For example, not providing a sidewalk in an area with pedestrian traffic or not providing bike traffic facilities.
“I think we're moving in the right direction, I still think there's a lot of work to be done,” Mulhall said. “We were awarded a grant to do a regional safety action plan. So we have, I think, 17 joint applicants in the two county area that we'll be working with, to look through that crash data, identify those trends and identify strategies and solutions and policies that will help improve safety in our region."
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.
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