At the crosswalk at Heights and 20th, walkers have flashing lights and audio signals that tell them when it’s safe to cross. But not every street has those signals. A few blocks away at Studemont and 8th, getting across the street can be a challenge.
“The traffic is coming by so fast, coming by so quickly, especially the early morning and the afternoons, that is really makes it almost impossible to cross.”
Heights business owner Dawn Callaway says people want to walk in the neighborhood but it’s not always easy.
“Myself, when I had my child in a stroller, I often had to really sprint across the street, and luckily there weren’t any accidents then.”
But those accidents happen a lot. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control show 47,000 pedestrians were struck and killed in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010.
Here in Texas, 418 pedestrians were killed in 2011. That’s a 17 percent increase from the year before — 83 of those fatalities happened in Harris County, up from 70 fatalities in 2010.
The high numbers come as no surprise to Dr. Kara Kockleman. She’s with the UT Center for Transportation Research.
“Texas is not a very pedestrian-friendly state. There’s not a lot of sidewalks in our neighborhoods, whether they are urban, suburban, rural. It’s really not something that is common to Texas.”
And in a state that’s focused on car travel, the lack of sidewalks poses a danger for one group in particular, and that’s the elderly. The CDC study shows people over the age of 75 are at the highest risk of being struck and killed. Kockleman says for senior citizens a walking trip of any distance poses a danger.
“You know, they’re often going to be on the same pavement as the cars, and crossing I would think is the greatest danger, and my concern there is their ability to turn their heads, their hearing, and their sight. All those things, and their response times, are problematic.”
“There’s many examples where poor design throughout the years leaves very bad situations.”
City Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzales says Houston could fix a lot of its problems with the adoption of a complete streets policy. That’s when streets are built with the needs of all users in mind, including walkers. Gonzales says much of the funding is already in place through the ReBuild Houston initiative voters approved in 2010.
“A lot of what I’m advocating for is not necessarily a monetary focus at this point. It’s more just better coordination and better design.”
Lawmakers in Austin are also looking at the issue. Houston State Senator Rodney Ellis has filed a bill calling on TxDOT to develop safer roadways for people using all modes of transportation.