Note: The “book” below appeared yesterday, 1.2.19, in reversed form both here and through Twitter. To make reading easier in the long-term (the Internet is eternal, or so we think) it’s now been un-reversed.
Prologue: A Sadly Simple Question
Many BB readers now have today off due to treacherous roads. Some are taking advantage of the snowy outdoors with some urban cross-country skiing and such, while others are hunkered down cozily at home. Perhaps some of you are hunkering with an Internet-capable device. For these latter folks, BB offers a complicated roadway story told in several “chapters.”
We start with the two photos above and a question. In the parlance of the New York Times crossword puzzle world, that question is a “Monday Puzzle.” It should be pretty easy to answer, yet the complete answer is, like a great many things, much more complicated. We’ll get to the complications in upcoming posts.
But will start with the simple question: What happened at this crossing on November 6, 2017?
Chapter I: The Ending
Considering the combination of clues (Juan Tabo, bike/ped crossing, etc.), “What happened at this crossing on November 6, 2017?” might be the easiest question you’ll be asked in all of 2019.
Here’s the answer provided via the conclusion of the APD investigation narrative (two short parts) found through a public records request:
Looking again at the Google screengrabs below, readers might wonder why there is no mention of flashing lights in the conclusion above. More about that in subsequent chapters. BB recently posted about the ABQ Traffic Codes regarding pedestrian travel, from whence the investigation officer gets the statutes above. The Conclusion’s concluding sentence, “This case should be considered exceptionally” isn’t quite complete (it should add the word “cleared”), but is meant to say the investigating officer believes the death was the pedestrian’s fault, i.e., the officially stated “pedestrian error.”
More about that pedestrian, why they were evidently crossing Juan Tabo here, and why “pedestrian error” doesn’t adequately capture the story in upcoming chapters.
Chapter II: Things to Chew Upon
As told below, a pedestrian was killed at this crossing on November 6, 2017:
BB obtained the APD crash and investigation reports via a public records request. Readers are advised to refer back to the photo above as they read the report excerpt below:
There is much to chew upon in the two paragraphs and photo above. The next chapter will illustrate and elaborate upon things such as the school crossing mentioned above, as well as context for the investigating officer’s experiment to find out how the motion-detection lighting (white on poles in median above) at this crossing is activated.
Chapter III: “I backed up a few feet”
We left our previous chapter below with APD investigators discovering that the flashing lights above were not activated, according to the driver involved, as a walker crossed at the point where the Paseo de Las Montanas multi-use path intersects Juan Tabo Boulevard. That path is the reason why motion-detection lights and signs are plentiful at this juncture.
Those lights didn’t activate, apparently, and the investigating officer outlines very possibly why in our previous excerpt from the officer’s report:
So the lights don’t activate when standing on the sidewalk itself, only when motion is detected approaching that sidewalk along the trail. Note, too, the observation from the officer that “there is not a painted crosswalk and the area is not well lit by street lights.”
So to recap, we have a poorly lit crossing of busy Juan Tabo Boulevard with no standard crosswalk striping, thus almost exclusively dependent on activation of motion-detection flashing lights to warn drivers someone is attempting to cross, particularly in the dark.
And that motion-detection doesn’t seem to work when someone is using the sidewalk.
Elsewhere in the report narrative, we find the following:
And here is a satellite look of where the nearest Twister’s Restaurant is located, along with some other details we’ll outline below:
Further details regarding the above:
- The crash victim lived on Chelwood Park NE, a few blocks east of the pointed arrow in red;
- That arrow and the southern end of the red line drawn along Juan Tabo are located at/near the crossing where the victim was killed;
- The circle in blue outlines the nearest officially marked crosswalk on Juan Tabo south of Twister’s.
Here is a closer view of that officially marked crosswalk:
Oh, there’s striping at Juan Tabo and Claremont. No, there’s no signal at this crossing. Just seven lanes and an offset side street with frequent turns onto Juan Tabo. Can I talk you into waking this officially marked crosswalk? Can I talk you into taking it at 6:30 or so p.m. in the dark on November 6, 2017?
The reason for this crosswalk is evidently Mathewson Park Elementary School to the east on Claremont, and there is a school crossing sign and flashing light signal on the approach to this intersection, but there wouldn’t be any flashing at 6:30 or so p.m. on November 6, 2017.
Yeah, you and I would probably just keeping walking further south, and not cross here. Maybe that’s what the victim in this incident was thinking. Maybe they thought the crossing further south would be safer.
Of course we’ll never know. And that’s an even-important point in such stories. The investigating officer could not interview the victim. If they had, perhaps it would have been easier for the officer to tie together a narrative of just why the victim was crossing Juan Tabo at the point chosen, and why walking the sidewalk, instead of the multi-use path, mattered in terms of activating the motion-detection flashing light.
We can’t be sure. Instead we just know the official finding from that investigator’s report was “pedestrian error.” More about that “error” and what it means for public policy regarding our roadways in our final chapter below.
Chapter IV: Facts, Factoids and Epilogue
Previous chapters have outlined what a police investigator determined to be “pedestrian error.” Someone trying to cross Juan Tabo was killed by a driver who did not see the victim and was not notified to their presence by the motion-detection flashing light system installed, as seen above, at this multi-use path crossing.
Mentions of the unsafe nature of this crossing IF the flashing lights are not engaged are sprinkled throughout the investigating officer’s narrative. For example:
That the investigating officer does not interpret these deficiencies in the crossing as major “contributing factor” is not surprising to one who has looked into a few APD pedestrian fatality reports.
The conditions and quality of a crossing, particularly one not marked with crosswalk striping, is not typically considered important. What IS considered important by APD is that the person walking HAS to be in a striped crosswalk and/or HAS to do everything that crossing entails. In this case, the apparent fact that the walker did not activate the flashing lights, even though this is done automatically through motion-detection and not through any action of the pedestrian, means the pedestrian is at fault.
Moreover, that the investigating officer does not interpret these deficiencies, failure of motion-detection included, as contributory factors has much to do with mitigating any liability for the City of Albuquerque. “Pedestrian error” means no liability for the City and its taxpayers. Attaching blame, even partial blame, on the design and installation of what is inarguably a highly dangerous crossing exposes the City and its taxpayers to costly litigation.
And there can be no doubt that this crossing is highly dangerous. It’s right there in the investigator’s report. Right down to the apparent fact the flashing lights don’t work if you’re on the sidewalk.
Last, having researched a few of these incidents over the past three years (and this probably won’t surprise you), there’s a complexity to these stories that very much includes the victims involved. Many of these folks had very, very tough lives. Behavioral health and associated factors are hugely important in many cases. Think about it, we’ve made walking our roadways so dangerous that pretty much only those forced by circumstances are walking them. This is particularly true for our most highly dangerous streets, Juan Tabo Boulevard a prime example.
The victim in the November 6, 2017 case recapped here was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who had recently been adjudicated for hitting his mother. If our little backwards-told tale had led with that description, how would your reaction, dear reader, been altered?
Myself, it’s hard to separate out those facts with what might have happened on that night. Did the victim irrationally run across Juan Tabo? We don’t know based on the investigator’s report. We do know, however, that the victim was in a crossing, as rational as any act of walking across Juan Tabo Boulevard can be I guess, and that the flashing lights apparently were not activated. On a dark street “not well lit by street lights.”
It also seems apparent that we as a community will not consider this crossing dangerous enough to fix until at least one more person dies trying to cross it. The person killed on November 6, 2017 evidently wasn’t enough.