Can Las Vegas Fix Its Pedestrian Death Problem?

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Despite the relation to this week’s tragic incident on the Las Vegas Strip, this question reaches wider and deeper than the desperate acts of a distraught few.

Consider this: Between 2008-2011—that’s four years, if your math is bad—140 auto-related pedestrian deaths occurred in Clark County. Metro investigated 70 such deaths in 2013 alone. In 2014, the count jumped to 93. And despite public relations efforts (the Zero Fatalities program), 2015’s number is closing on 120—a 70 percent rise over 2013, and nearly matching the four-year total cited earlier.

Contributing factors are numerous, including wide suburban-style streets where cars legally travel 66 feet per second, but where sidewalks remain narrow and unforgiving; increased digital distractions; 24-hour shifts; 24-hour bars; easily distracted tourists, especially those hailing from places where cars and pedestrians comingle a little less confrontationally.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study spanning the years 2008-2011 found that far more local walkers die than tourists. Most are men, around 50 years old; 32 percent had blood alcohol content higher than .08 percent—significant, given that the focus on drunk drivers outweighs any such attention on drunk walkers. The study concluded some obvious ways to improve statistics: reduce exposure of pedestrians to traffic, reduce traffic speed, improve pedestrian visibility, improve awareness and behavior of drivers and pedestrians.

How that translates to a post-war suburban city is hard to imagine, especially when so many of us live on one side of town and work on the other while demanding to get from A to B quickly. On the heels of this week’s tragedy, some are calling for barriers to be erected along the Strip to keep cars off the sidewalk and pedestrians off the street. While it might be a good PR move, it sounds like an overreaction to what has thus far been a rare problem.

Still, given the way the Strip has developed over the years and the increase in foot traffic along it, it would seem better to move toward a more pedestrian-friendly environment altogether. Fewer lanes for traffic, more room for walkers, cyclists and pedicabs. In the future, traffic might be gone from the Strip entirely, the entire stretch a Disney-esque Party Street U.S.A. with a PeopleMover running through it.

As for the suburbs, we’re not about to redraw the roadmap for existing communities, so awareness and attitude need to improve among drivers and pedestrians. Reduce posted speeds in busy areas, and then enforce them. Add signaled crosswalks. Take fewer chances. In the end, who knows? Perhaps more urban-style developments will make their way to the suburbs, giving those who have no want for a car a way to safely live without.