Developing Data-Driven Pedestrian Safety Assessment Methods for RITI Communities

Through the outreach and research activities in previous years’ CEST projects, the research team has fully understood some of the existing challenges and issues of the rural, isolated, tribal or indigenous (RITI) communities on traffic safety that require immediate actions. One of such outstanding issue is pedestrian safety, which is getting increasing attention from the government agencies to transportation researchers and practitioners and to the residents living in the RITI communities. According to the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration), 54% of collisions occurred on rural roads while only 19% of the country’s population lives in rural areas (2012). Per capita, it is much more likely that fatalities occur in rural areas rather than urban areas. The disparity is even more stark when considering Native American populations in the U.S. Native Americans are three times more likely to be killed in a traffic incident than Non-Native populations according to the Washington Safety Traffic Commission (2013). The research team has been in close communication with engineers from Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Engineering department and learned that Yakama Nation has the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in Washington State. The research team have conducted a site visit to Yakama Nation and several teleconferences with engineers and planners of the Yakama Nation DNR Engineering department and recognized the pressing needs to improve the pedestrian safety conditions. One of the most critical issues faced by pedestrians in Yakama Nation is lacking pedestrian facilities. For most of the roadways throughout the reservation there are no existing pedestrian facilities. Most roads don’t even have a shoulder, and instead have an embankment or a drainage ditch. This forces pedestrians to walk essentially on the fog line or in the live traffic lane along most of these roads. Additionally, there is a relatively high population that have no access to a car, instead relying on either public transportation or walking. Considering public transportation has limited routes and does not run every day and high levels of amenities along roads without pedestrian infrastructure, high levels of pedestrians use these roadways and are exposed to vehicles. Winter months are particularly problematic due to fog regularly limiting visibility for drivers. Additionally, there are several intersections that are only stop controlled by stop signs that have poor visibility, even without fog, that also increase the risk for pedestrians. In addition to the lack of accommodations for pedestrian, other factors such as roadway geometrics, traffic characteristics, roadway and intersection operation characteristics, weather conditions, and cultural and human behaviors, also contribute greatly to the pedestrian safety issues. However, due to practical challenges, most of the relevant data to measure the pedestrian exposure risk are limited/lacking in Yakama Nation. Many state and local governments, especially in the rural and tribal areas, are experiencing pedestrian safety issues similar to Yakama Nation. There is an urgent need for systemic and data-driven pedestrian safety assessment methods that provide guidance on the collection and analysis of necessary data, identification and investigation of contributing factors, development of pedestrian safety indices, identification of high-risk roadways and intersections, etc.