Transportation

Lots Of Turning Vehicles Can Make Walking Especially Challenging For Houston’s Pedestrians

Houston remains one of the top cities where a pedestrian is likely to get hit and many of those crashes happen when a vehicle is making a turn. Experts say road design is a big factor but there’s also driver behavior.

Like many parts of Houston, Gulfton has a lot of traffic. And it’s not just cars.

The neighborhood on the southwest side has a large immigrant community and a lot of people get around on foot. They share the streets with vehicles that are turning in all directions. That creates what’s known as conflict points.

One of the people who walks in Gulfton is Norma Delgado. She told us about a frightening encounter with a turning vehicle when she was walking her kids home from school one day.

They were on the sidewalk, crossing the driveway of an apartment complex when a driver made a fast and abrupt turn that missed them by only inches. Delgado said she had to grab her kids and pull them out of the way.

The Gulfton mom told us they’re a lot more cautious now. But what about when a pedestrian is actually hit by a turning vehicle? We head to another neighborhood where a lot of people walk and that’s the Texas Medical Center.

It was at the busy intersection at University and North Main where Rachel Fairbank was struck along with three other pedestrians back in 2010.

When that crash happened, Fairbank was a grad student at Baylor College of Medicine. She was on her way to school that morning.

“And we’d stopped in the middle to let the ongoing traffic clear off a little bit when I looked to my left and I saw a car about a yard away from me,” explained Fairbank.

That car was up on the median and Fairbank said it was coming straight toward her. Before she knew it, Fairbank was lying in the crosswalk, bleeding and in pain, while police directed traffic around her.

She now thinks the elderly man who hit her may have mistaken the median for a turn lane.

“I was very lucky to make a full physical recovery,” said Fairbank. “But it was three years before I could see a car coming at me and not panic.”

These kind of crashes can have even worse consequences. Local writer Polly Koch was killed last year by a vehicle making a turn at Richmond and Mandell Street.

To learn more about why these collisions happen, we talked to Alan Clark, Transportation Planning Director for the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

“Many of our roads were built for a whole lot less traffic than what we have today,” said Clark.

And Clark added that it’s not just a matter of more cars on the road. It’s also the kinds of development that come with a growing population.

“Now that there are lots of businesses along the road you have people going across medians, going from one store to another, making many more turns in and out of these businesses,” Clark continued.

But even at well-marked pedestrian crossings, there could be other factors. Robert Benz is a Research Engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. He says in a car-centered city like Houston, some drivers simply aren’t looking out for pedestrians.

“If you come up on an intersection every day and you never see anybody then you’re not going to expect them,” said Benz. “But if you come up to that same intersection every day and you always see a pedestrian, you’re going to be on the lookout for them.”

And one of those pedestrians you might see is Rachel Fairbank.

Back in the Med Center, Fairbank said that despite being the victim of a horrific crash, she’s still out there walking.

“It keeps me sane, it keeps me healthy,” said Fairbank. “I want to live in a Houston where we have safe options for walking but the only way that is going to happen is if people take that first step.”

And experts say that even though Houston’s roads may not be perfect for everyone right now, that first step is looking out for everyone who uses them.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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