Are you crossing the street right now?  Not quite sure?  You might want to look up from that phone…wait,watch out for that…!!”

[suspenseful pause; sigh of relief; shouted profanities]

Like me, you’ve probably been on both sides of this “near miss” – whether as the startled pedestrian or bicyclist, or as the angry driver slamming on the brakes.  One, or both, commuters might be distracted on a call or text.  Each then inevitably blames the other.  I regularly witness the screaming matches on the busy intersections of Washington, D.C., and feel confident that they likewise occur in cities and towns across the country.  Accident data support my theory and suggest that the problem is only growing. 

Non-motorized forms of transportation are properly receiving increased attention at the federal, state, and local levels.  Walkable or “livable” communities have become a key objective of transportation planning.  Modern highway projects routinely include elements benefitting non-motorists, including new or improved trails, bicycle-dedicated lanes, or other pedestrian-friendly features.  Safety, however, remains critical to the success of these efforts.

To that end, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently announced a new initiative to enhance pedestrian and bicyclist safety and reduce the growing number of injuries and fatalities.  This action plan entitled “Safer People, Safer Streets” includes new research and data collection efforts, assessments of vehicle safety, infrastructure design options, and education.  In Maryland, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation also recently announced their YOLO campaign and is partnering with Montgomery County Public Schools to raise awareness of the risks of distracted walking and other dangerous pedestrian behaviors.

These are all commendable goals.  In order to ensure success, the government should not lose sight of all aspects of the safety issue.  “Education” efforts must recognize the pedestrians’ and bicyclists’ own role and responsibility in promoting safety.  New roadway features, technologies, and the like can only do so much.  They cannot wholly eliminate encounters between pedestrians and vehicles at traffic crossings.  Safer, “complete” streets depend on highlighting and reducing not only distracted driving, but also distracted walking.

Now, back to that game of Candy Crush you were playing while waiting for the light to change…