Tentative Case Study: 4-Year-Old Pedestrian Struck Crossing Central at Clayton

In an effusive display that pedestrians getting hit by cars does matter if the victim’s age is 4, local media has been all over the case of the very young boy struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing Central with his grandmother (age unknown) west of Rio Grande Blvd. at Clayton on Saturday night.

The effusive media display has effusively centered on blaming the 4-year-old and his grandmother. The pair attempted to go straight across Clayton, instead of walking the approximately 450 ft. east to the traffic light/crosswalk at Rio Grande Boulevard. That the kid was struck by someone who then left the scene is mere afterthought, as that gets in the way of blaming the true perpetrator here. As quoted in the KOAT story, APD’s Simon Drobnik puts it:

“When you come up to a light, there is a designated crosswalk, people pay attention to that, but when you’re walking across the street and somebody can’t see you, you get hit,” Drobik said. “The vast majority of time that you hit somebody that’s out of a crosswalk, it’s not going to be your fault because they’re supposed to utilize (a crosswalk). Pedestrians have to obey the law also.”

See motorists. It’s not your fault if you hit someone, even a 4-year-old kid away from a crosswalk. It’s their fault.

One other observation made in the effusive display was that of a Mr. Abraham Oliver in the KOB story. Very tangentially an actual eyewitness, he notes:

“Through here, yeah, all the time,” said Abraham Oliver, who works near Old Town. “Some people run across here and crosswalk is right there, and I see them run through here and they don’t care. People don’t care.”

It’s a bit unclear whether Mr. Oliver is referring more to the pedestrians in the area or the drivers whizzing around the infamous Central bulge that starts east-west around Rio Grande and winds around to New York Avenue. Fortunately, the KOB story directly follows the quote with this observation from APD:

According to APD, the number of pedestrian deaths has gone up recently because people are not using the crosswalks.

Good. Glad we cleared that up. It’s the pedestrian’s fault, even in cases of hit-and-run drivers. The motoring doofus in these cases is only a dork because they leave the scene. Otherwise, hit away motoring public. Hit away.

Now that we’ve cleared up Albuquerque Death Race 2000 (original version only, please), let’s extend the effusive display a tiny, tiny bit and look at perhaps why the 4-year-old and grandmother (age unknown) tried to cross Central at Clayton instead of Rio Grande Blvd. 450 feet to the east.


The Google Earth screenshot above gives some good clues why folks might make this dangerous choice. These clues include McDonald’s, Subway crossing south/north, and Dairy Queen and Liam’s Chinese crossing north/south. Using the screenshot above to also calculate the 450 feet from the corner of Clayton to the traffic light/crosswalk at Rio Grande, we then find, via the little measure in white above, that it’s right at 82 feet from sidewalk to sidewalk crossing Central directly. Completing the math, pedestrians wishing to eat at, let’s say, McDonald’s crossing south/north can either:

Option A. (Legally)

  1. Walk 45o feet east to the light at Rio Grande
  2. Wait for the light (let’s say that an average wait of a minute)
  3. Walk another 450 feet west back to the north side of Central at Rio Grande

Option B. (Illegally)

  1. Walk (or run) 82 feet across Central

Which one are you going to do? I know your likely answer is “neither,” as in, I’m going to get in my car, drive the back street to Rio Grande and turn left at the light because that left turn from Clayton onto Central is murder.”

Yeah, I know that’s the right answer. But let’s say you’re a grandmother babysitting your 4-year-old grandson, while the kid’s parents are out for “date night,” taking the only available car. So you’re gonna walk and the kid naturally wants to go to McDonald’s. And the kid wants to get there real, real fast, because it’s McDonald’s. The kid doesn’t want Dairy Queen or Chinese food. He wants McDonald’s.

So, you might choose, ill-advisedly, Option B above, because Option A would just take too damn long, especially if you’re a grandmother and the other walker here is a 4-year-old. To better understand this wrinkle, pedestrian traffic experts actually calculate how fast pedestrians of various ages walk. That’s how crosswalk times are established, and why the crossing time seems so damn high when we’re waiting at the light.

For example, a study published in a 1997 Road Engineering Journal found that older female pedestrians (over 65) walk an average of 3.89 feet per second. Now you know why we’ve been adding “age unknown” to our description of the grandmother in the story.

Let’s say the grandmother here is 65 or above, and walks at the average speed for such pedestrians. Throwing that 3.96 fps into Option A v. Option B above, we get the following time spent walking:

Option A. (Legally)

  1. Walk 45o feet east to the light at Rio Grande: 450/3.89 fps = 116 seconds = 1 minute and 56 seconds
  2. Wait for the light (let’s say that an average wait of a minute) = 1 minute
  3. Walk another 450 feet west back to the north side of Central at Rio Grande = 1 minute and 56 seconds

Total: 4 minutes and 52 seconds

Option B. (Illegally)

  1. Walk (or run) 82 feet across Central 82/3.89 fps = 21 seconds

Total: 21 seconds

What would you do? What would you do, regardless of your age? Regardless of whether you had a 4-year-old in tow (the walking speed of whom would also be interesting, but we’re not getting into that here)?

We’re not asking if it’s the right thing to do, or the safest. We’re just asking…what would you do if you wanted to go to McDonald’s, Subway, Dairy Queen or Liam’s Chinese?

In conclusion, there’s an endless number of analytical avenues we could go here, but we’ll conclude instead, for now, with this. It is completely understandable that APD and local media are using this unfortunate incident to raise public awareness to the dangers of jaywalking. We all hope it results in fewer jaywalkers, as well as a fully healthy 4-year-old in the very near future. Still, while studies show public education is somewhat effective, this 2006 literature review of studies on the subject identifies three methods of combating pedestrian non-compliance (better known as jaywalking):

  • Via education and publicity 
  • Via enforcement of road traffic laws
  • Via traffic engineering

Obviously, APD and local media are employing the first of the three here. And while the lit review linked above did show benefit from all three approaches, the greater benefit comes from enforcement and traffic engineering, as noted in the consistently huge number of jaywalkers found in all studies, even with lots of education and publicity.

Some set of circumstances is leading many people, including a 4-year-old and his grandmother, to illegally cross our streets, particularly Central around Rio Grande Boulevard. Telling people to “just stop doing it” isn’t really addressing the problem, even if the horrific image of a 4-year-old getting hit by a car is employed in the telling.

We need to investigate all three methods of combating jaywalking above, while also including the other participant in such incidents: the motorist. Education/publicity, enforcement and engineering MUST be better applied to motorist behavior, instead of merely blaming the non-compliant pedestrian.

Right now we’re just blaming the four-year-old, his grandmother, and his many injured/dead brethren. How’s that working out for us as we sit near the very top of pedestrian crashes/injuries/deaths in the nation?

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