City of Phoenix works to keep thoroughfares safe
By Ethan Hall | Special to the Digital Free Press
Black asphalt, flashing lights, and shards of broken glass are familiar sights at the scene of a car crash.
From fender-benders to multiple car pile-ups, there are an estimated 100,000 car accidents that happen here in the Phoenix metropolitan area, according to the state repository for roadway data — the Arizona Department of Transportation.
As winter season looms, Phoenix and surrounding communities see a generous influx of winter visitors from eastern states.
According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, approximately 41 million people come to Arizona every year, whereas experts there say that is about 87% of pre-pandemic levels. That number of visitors? 46 million in 2019.
However, an increase in crashes has also followed peaking at 120,000 collisions with over 1,100 fatalities, nearly 200 more than there were in 2019, numbers show. In response to the increases in fatalities and crashes, the city of Phoenix has adopted the “Vision Zero Road Safety Plan,” which seeks to eliminate deaths and injuries due to car crashes by 2050.
The Vision Zero plan is a piece of the larger Phoenix Road Safety Action plan. It strives to create a system that allows people of all types of transportation to move freely and safely in their communities. Any city can adopt a national initiative, and Phoenix will be putting $10 million toward the plan.
The plan has five “E’s” that, according to the city of Phoenix’s report, will include evaluation, engineering, enforcement, education and equity as its main five focuses.
The evaluation will include the collection of crash data on “vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycles,” according to the city report.
City officials say they will collect the data over five years and review past safety measures and trends to identify what is working within the system. Looking to past trends will also help to determine what areas are in more need of attention for a more rapid response.
During the engineering phase, the city will begin to create the physical solutions used in streets across Phoenix. Depending on the data, specific safety measures like traffic signal improvements, ramps, curb improvements, and better communication through signs or markings.
One of the front runners for new features will be the HAWK system, city officials say.
The new traffic lights would replace old lights in high pedestrian traffic areas. It would include places like convention centers, stadiums or entertainment hubs, making pedestrian travel through the city much more accessible.
Avoiding motorist collisions in Phoenix
Paul Basha, a traffic operation engineer with Summit Land Management, explained a situation he had recently experienced on the road. He had witnessed two separate pedestrians crossing the street when a no-walk sign was up. He further explained that if he or the other drivers around him had not been vigilant, it would have resulted in an accident.
“Most pedestrian collisions occur with bad behavior from pedestrians,” he said.
The effort’s primary function would be to give pedestrians more freedom to move through dense areas and better prepare drivers for pedestrian crossing. These will be great for visitors who often spend time in these locations while visiting. But even with the installation of all of these, there needs to be enforcement and laws.
The road safety action plan will also focus on enforcing the laws set by the city to protect drivers better. For example, the speed limit, which tops out at 65 mph on most highways, is often ignored by drivers who typically go with the speed of traffic.
These accidents are hazardous for visitors and the large senior population here in Arizona, officials say.
“In some parts of the Valley, there are a significant number of senior citizens who drive around,” said Kohinoor Kar, an ASU affiliate. “Some of them are relatively slow in high-speed facilities. We need to be respectful to them.”
The population of those 55 years old account for about 2.5 million people in Arizona.
“During monsoon especially, a ‘haboob’ (dust storm), driving through an active storm is highly discouraged. If someone is stuck in the middle of a dust storm, he/she needs to know what to do. There are plenty of public awareness and safety tips available. Visitors are encouraged to keep them in mind and drive responsibly.”
The final phase is equity, which plans to support neglected areas better.
“The roadway program supports the transit system and is committed to install 135 miles of sidewalks, over 1,000 miles of bike lanes, install/upgrade 2,000 new streetlights, replace aging traffic signals, and invest $240 million for major street improvements,” according to the municipal report.
Editor’s note: Mr. Hall is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.