A call to action as New Mexico leads US in deaths of pedestrians

An officer photographs a victim’s shoe as Albuquerque police investigate a fatal pedestrian crash in February on East Central. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Department of Transportation in New Mexico – the deadliest state for pedestrians for four years running – announced a comprehensive Safety Action plan earlier this month that included hundreds of pages of the plan itself and the compiled data on crashes around the state.

“We must take action, and the department is committed to making pedestrians safer in New Mexico,” Transportation Secretary Mike Sandoval said in a prepared statement. “Comprehensive pedestrian safety isn’t just a governor’s priority, it isn’t just a NMDOT priority – it’s a country, state, county and city priority.”

In 2020, 81 people were fatally struck by vehicles across the state; 30 of the crashes happened in the Albuquerque area, where 264 people were struck by vehicles.

That number represented a drop from 2019, when more than 394 people were hit by vehicles and 42 died in the Albuquerque area.

Nevertheless, New Mexico has ranked No. 1 in the nation for pedestrian deaths every year from 2016 through 2019 and has taken the top spot in preliminary data for 2020.

Pedestrian death data

The state study looked at nearly 4,000 pedestrian crashes from 2012 through 2018 and found that:

• 79% of pedestrian crashes left a person injured, and 12%, or 476 crashes, killed someone.

• Pedestrian error contributed to 25% or 957 crashes, alcohol or drug use contributed to 24%, driver inattention contributed to 18% and motorist or pedestrian failure to yield contributed to 10% or 376 crashes.

• 91% of crashes happened on urban roads, and 43% of fatalities happened on four-lane streets.

• 65% of pedestrians were men, and – although only 11% of the population is Native American – 16% of those struck and/or killed were Native American.

• The highest percentage, 19%, of those struck by vehicles were 21 to 30 years old.

• 1,850 of the crashes happened in Albuquerque, 225 in Santa Fe and 222 in Las Cruces.

The study also identified high crash corridors and compiled crash data for those areas:

• In Albuquerque, there were 331 crashes along Central, 25 of them fatal; 124 along Coors, 30 of them fatal. In Santa Fe, there were 44 crashes, five of them fatal, on Cerrillos. In Farmington, there were 18 crashes, seven of them fatal, along Main Street. In Gallup, there were 31 crashes, four of them fatal, along Route 66.

• 51% of crashes in these corridors occurred in the daytime, and 28% happened at night in an area with streetlights present; 38% happened at intersections with signals, 37% at intersections without signals and 25% at midblock with no crosswalk.

Goals, policy changes

Many of the documents released by the Transportation Department are lacking in specifics regarding possible infrastructure, but the pages do lay out some goals and policy changes.

Among the proposed changes, the plan includes omitting “pedestrian error” from driver input on the uniform crash report, developing distracted-driver and DWI education campaigns, getting pedestrian feedback from vulnerable communities, identifying 10 locations for pedestrian signals, revisiting speed limit setting policies and supporting legislative actions that improve pedestrian safety.

The documents also included a survey filled out by walkers, more than 80% of whom said they walk for exercise, recreation or enjoyment, and fewer than 2% of whom said walking was their “only option” to get around.

Of those surveyed, 40% said they resisted walking because destinations were too far, 19% because of concerns over traffic speeds and safety and 14% because of a lack of sidewalks.

One person complained about the pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks along Central in Downtown Albuquerque, calling it “not a good entrance to our downtown or representation of our city.”

“The pedestrian tunnel … is not well lit and is usually scattered with debris and human excrement,” the person wrote. “Despite alerting 311 of this regularly it is treated as a no mans land, yet it is one of the most commonly traveled paths for visitors attending the convention center.”

Another person said Canyon Road in Santa Fe should be “50% pedestrian.”

“There are few crosswalks, no curb cuts, crumbling sidewalks. Cars fly along this road far above the speed limit,” the person wrote, adding that local police officers are “some of the worst speeders” along the route.

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