I had the chance to talk with Emily Jaceks of KOB-TV yesterday at the intersection of Menaul and University, site of someone killed walking last Friday night. Apparently, a snippet of our chat will air during a KOB newscast today.
Throughout Jaceks and cameraman setting things up, and all during our chat, the setting, one I’m not very familiar with, as it’s kinda of a cyclist’s “no go zone,” was one of urban chaos. Vehicles flew by at or above the posted 45 mph speed limit. Steady ones, two, and even fours of walkers crossed all along the corridor, both on Menaul and University, nowhere near the intersection/crosswalk. An ambulance in full siren raced by, yet that added only a cherry on the top to what is truly a banana split of urban streetscape hell.
An orthographic view gives us a better idea of why Menaul and University is so bad:
The south side of Menaul has all these I-40 adjacent hotels, of varying quality levels, while a huge truck stop is on the west side of University north of Menaul. Services, in the form of a 24-hour smoke/CBD shop, Circle K, and a Village Inn (among others, including a new bistro/pub a bit to the east) are all on the north side of Menaul. A Little Anita’s restaurant (in front of which we stood) and a Range Cafe make up the services on the south side of Menaul. Another large hotel sits on the north side of Menaul.
So we’ve got all these services (restaurants, convenience stores, smoke shop) across the busy, high-speed street from where people are. As these hotels are adjacent to the Interstate, one can imagine the number of people who have been on long car trips to get to places like the “M&M Elegante.” Driving across the street to Village Inn probably doesn’t appeal in that condition. Added to this is what looks to be a pretty sizable homeless population, drawn by precisely those services, proximity to highway underpasses, and other factors.
So, in context of why I was there with a KOB reporter, one would obviously note my mention above that many walkers were “jaywalking.” In fact, we didn’t see a single user of the intersection/crosswalk, yet saw at least 15 “jaywalkers” in the scant 15-20 minutes we chatted. Why is that? Why aren’t these walkers using the intersection/crosswalk?
To start answering that, here’s basically what it looks like from our vantage point in front of the Little Anita’s looking northwest to the intersection (taken from a 2015 Google StreetView shot):
You’ve got your typical nasty, uncomfortable, high-speed, busy intersection, one at which walkers will have to warily stand for quite some time, given all the traffic movements. If I’m at the M&M Elegante and want to eat waffles at Village Inn, why would I want to walk all the way to the intersection, uncomfortably wait at the light to use the crosswalk, then walk all the way east on the north side to the restaurant?
In response to human behavior, roadways are designed to save time for motorists, even at the neglect of safety. Any look at traffic crash statistics tells us that. So why are we surprised and outraged that those walking our streets are making the same time/safety calculation “we” do? What would you, typically non-walking resident of Albuquerque, do, if forced or choosing to walk, in this situation? No, what would you really do?
As a community, we wash our hands of the pedestrian fatality problem with a simple “they don’t use the crosswalks!” Very much emphasis on “they.” We stack that up with other apparent explanations, such as “they were wearing dark clothing!” and “they were probably drunk or high!”
And because most of “us” are drivers, powerful in all ways in the roadway dynamic, and “they” are fewer, powerless in all ways right down to their lack of 4,000 lb. weapons, horsepower, torque, etc., our roadways are designed for “our” comfort and “their” discomfort. This is so, even though “we” and “they” are both human, and both make decisions humans make.
So, to answer my question above, I’m thinking you, typically non-walking resident of Albuquerque, is going to give “jaywalking” a shot to get to that Village Inn from the M&M Elegante. Yeah, it’s 45 mph, posted, on Menaul, but the restaurant is right across the street, and you’d like to eat breakfast and get back to the hotel in less than an hour.
We’re all in a hurry.
It’s just that our streets are primarily designed, overwhelmingly so, for motorists in a hurry. And only for them.
Until our roadway design mindset changes to prioritize safety for all users reflecting actual human behavior, instead of prioritizing speed and efficiency for only motorists while demanding non-motorized users make choices which conflict with human behavior, we’re going to keep having people die at/near intersections like Menaul and University.