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Archive for July, 2017

distracted_walkingTo read the news lately, you’d think thousands of millenials are so distracted by their iPhones that they are walking off cliffs and stepping in front of trucks. Everywhere, there are PSA’s warning pedestrians to refrain from walking and texting. The Governors Highway Association blames Distracted Walking for the increasing pedestrian death toll. And now Honolulu’s city council has taken things a step further by passing a bill prohibiting pedestrians from texting while crossing the street.

But how serious of a problem is Distracted Walking? Are policymakers basing decisions on hard data, or anecdotes? The author of the Honolulu measure says he was motivated by stories told to him by some high schoolers.

The mass hysteria over Distracted Walking originated with a paper published by Jack Nasar (Ohio State University) and his student Derek Troyer. They argued that the increasing use of cell phones had caused a spike in pedestrian injuries. They were featured in major newspapers, such as the NY Times. Cell phones, it was reported, had caused over 1,000 serious injuries per year. And that was just the “tip of the iceberg” it was argued because many injuries don’t require hospitalization.

In absolute terms, those numbers may seem catastrophic. But in relative terms, they are insignificant. Just 3% of the pedestrian hospitalizations involved a cell phone. That is according to Nasar’s own numbers.

The 3% figure accounts for any kind of injury, not just ones involving motor vehicles. And the 3% figure covers use of a cell phone in any kind public space, not just sidewalks. The Honolulu law would only regulate use within an intersection, which makes up only a tiny fraction of that 3%. Even worse, Nasar reports most Distracted Walking accidents (70%) involved talking, not texting. The Honolulu measure would only cover texting (presumably, pedestrians could still talk with the same hands-free devices drivers use).

So the proposed law in Honolulu cannot possibly have any impact on the city’s pedestrian safety because there are so few cell-phone injuries to begin with. If anything, it could degrade pedestrian safety if it (ahem) distracts police from more important enforcement issues, like speeding and drunk driving

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The Bay Area is notorious for preventing infill development around transit stations. But with Branham LRT station in San Jose, things have hit a new low.

The San Jose General Plan designates the area around the Branham LRT station for mixed-use development. Nonetheless, the VTA-owned property is zoned “A” (agricultural!). To facilitate transit-oriented development, VTA submitted a request to change the zoning. Developing the Branham parking lot is a no-brainer, since it has just 13% utilization.

But neighbors and Councilmember Johnny Khamis are pushing back, forcing the VTA to at least temporarily withdraw the application:

When VTA’s application was filed recently, San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis said he would demand it address traffic around the northbound on-ramp to Highway 87 near the site before he would even consider a land use amendment.

“I let VTA know that they would have big opposition, including myself, to developing that property…without traffic mitigation measures at least started. “To change the zoning to housing before we address the traffic concerns, it seemed irresponsible to me,” he added.

Gee, if only there were an LRT station nearby to mitigate the traffic….

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It will be amusing if they actually enforce this proposed law on tourists in Waikiki:

The Honolulu City Council passed a bill Wednesday that prohibits pedestrians from looking at their mobile devices while they cross the street. A pedestrian making a 911 call is exempted. Emergency responders performing official duties won’t face penalties either. Otherwise, fines will range from $15 to $99, depending on how many times they flout the ban.
Note this bill only applies to pedestrians. It will still be legal to view a mobile device while driving a car through an intersection.

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