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County getting street smart
by Garrett Valenzuela
Oct 02, 2012 | 2932 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo/Garrett Valenzuela -- A pedestrian crosses the street at the intersection of Oddie Boulevard and El Rancho Drive.
Tribune photo/Garrett Valenzuela -- A pedestrian crosses the street at the intersection of Oddie Boulevard and El Rancho Drive.
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SPARKS — The number of pedestrian fatalities has gone up significantly over the past year and a half in Washoe County, jumping from three to 12 between 2010 and 2011. With six pedestrian fatalities having been recorded this year, the Nevada Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) has begun a program to combat the growing statistics.

Street Smart, a pedestrian safety campaign, is designed to educate motorists and pedestrians in Washoe County to help bring down the rate of fatalities. The OTS partnered with the Regional Transportation Commission, the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno and Get Healthy Washoe to raise awareness of the benefits of walking and how to do so safely.

Carol Perry, trip reduction specialist for the RTC and Street Smart program manager, said the campaign is using a lighthearted approach, focusing more on the driving aspect as opposed to last year’s pedestrian-centric campaign.

“Many pedestrian accidents could be preventable if we are aware of what other people are doing,” Perry said. “(Pedestrian safety) is a complex subject and there isn’t one thing that either side, the drivers or the pedestrians, can do to fix it. There has to be cooperation.”

While collecting data to apply for the Street Smart grant, Perry said her team discovered that a considerable amount of pedestrian fatalities happen in low-light conditions. She said pedestrians have the advantage when walking at night and should do their part to help motorists.

“As a pedestrian, it is easy for you to see a car — they have headlights,” she said. “Just because you see them doesn’t mean they see you. Chances are by the time they do see you it would be too late for them to stop safely.”

According to the Street Smart information packet, cars are only able to see 160 feet in front of them with headlight illumination, not factoring in changes in elevation, road curves and type of headlight. Perry said pedestrian safety is critical as the fall season approaches because of the change in temperature and scenery to walkers.

“Often times in the fall you have shifting lights and October is a great time for people to walk. Temperatures are dropping and the colors are beautiful so it is a great time to encourage walking, which means it’s a good time for safety messages,” she said adding that special occasions like International Walk to School Day (Oct.3) and Halloween increase sidewalk traffic of children who have potential to dart into the streets unexpectedly.

Sparks Police Department Traffic Sgt. Jeanmarie Walsh said city improvements to lighting, sidewalks and overall street improvements have made pedestrians safer, but no street is without risk. She said pedestrians and drivers each have a specific role in avoiding crashes.

“For pedestrians, you need to be making sure those cars see you, and the only way to guarantee that they see you is to make eye contact with them,” Walsh said. “You should not be stepping into their lane of traffic until you are sure they see you. As drivers, we have a lot of things at our disposal to distract us these days. Whether it’s eating or drinking or looking at your map, those things need to be pushed to the background.”

Walsh agreed the cooperation between driver and pedestrian is the easiest way to avoid pedestrian fatalities.

“Usually it takes two people not paying attention to make a bad accident,” she said. “It’s not always the case, but if somebody makes a mistake or doesn’t see something but the other does, those risks are lessened.”

Perry said the RTC’s construction of complete street designs, allowing for all modes of transportation, has already shown a decrease in accidents by 30 to 40 percent in some areas. Though not all streets have been converted to this form, she said actively practicing pedestrian safety, as a pedestrian and as a driver, will help bring down the rate of pedestrian crashes in the county.

“Looking both ways, wearing bright colors or flashing lights applies year-round, to anyone at any age,” she said. “Even if you are 55 years old and 6-foot-2, you are still going to lose a round with a car.”

For more information about Street Smart and to learn pedestrian safety tips, visit www.StreetSmartNV.com.
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