Pima County has seen a rash of fatal pedestrian accidents in 2013. It has already set a record with 21 deaths.
Of those deaths, 16 have been in the city of Tucson, which compares to six for all of 2012.
Experts point out that the numbers has been in flux in recent years.
“It kind of goes up and down,” said Tucson Police Lt. Danny Denogean.” You go back to 2011, we had I believe 19 fatals. You go back to 2007, we had 17. You kind of get spikes up and down.”
Police and other public safety officials are attacking the problem, and hoping that initiatives, which went into place two years ago, begin taking hold soon.
“2011 was another year in which there were a lot of pedestrian fatals,” said city of Tucson Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Anne Chaneka. “So a lot of things were set in motion in 2011 and they’re starting to unfold.”
Chaneka said more paved sidewalks to keep walkers off the streets and educating pedestrians are key steps that came out of the efforts begin in the record-setting year of 2011.
She is not the only one who feels this way.
“There’s not a lot of defensive walking,” Denogean, said. “If they see a light for them to cross, they go out there with the right of way, but even if you have the right of way you still have to pay attention because with a car coming through you’re going to lost that battle no matter what.”
It’s a matter of being right, but not being safe. And when people are on foot in traffic, they are necessarily safe.
“When you’re talking about pedestrian safety,” Chaneka said, “it’s difficult in that pedestrians are the most vulnerable users out there.”
And it is most likely both side who are at fault. The simple solution is people paying attention when traveling, whether by car or on foot.
“We see a lot of distracted walking, and we see a lot of distracted driving as well,” Lt Denogian said. “So, it’s a combination of both.”
And since it’s both drivers and pedestrians who are the issue, the City of Tucson is focusing efforts on both sides.
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild believes it comes from both education and how roads are built.
“Part of it is education, both of pedestrians and drivers,” Rothschild said. "And part is having infrastructure in place that can create safer pathways for pedestrians.”
With that in mind, the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program continues to try finding the best ways to make roads safer.
The city has already achieved one major improvement, what is known as a HAWK signal.
The HAWK signals are the road crossings at which a pedestrian can push a button and trigger flashing red lights at a crosswalk. The first U.S. city to use the signals was Tucson.
“They have a motorist compliance rate of 97 percent," Chaneka said. “The HAWK signals were actually innovated in (the city) by the former city of Tucson engineer Dr. Richard Nassi. He had traveled to Europe and saw some lights geared towards pedestrians and bicyclists in Europe and came here and adapted them.”
Another tool is the Tucson Pedestrian Advisory Committee. The newly formed group is aiming to find other ways to lower the number of pedestrians injured by cars.
The idea came from a similar group’s past success.
“We have the bike commission, so I thought we should form a pedestrian commission,” Rothschild said. “The idea is for them to go around and find best practices, best resources, so that we can create a walkable Tucson.”
“The fact is, we’re all pedestrians, some just more than others, so we all need to follow the rules of the road,” said Valerie Vinyard, pedestrian advisory committee secretary and Triple-A spokesperson.
She hopes the group can help solve the problem of pedestrian, car collisions.
“They established the Pedestrian Advisory Committee to increase awareness and increase safety among pedestrians. Record numbers are getting hit by vehicles and we obviously want to do something to prevent that," she said.
But such change takes time.
As city pedestrian and bicycle coordinator Chaneka said earlier, ideas from 2011 are just starting to come into practice two years later. And not all of them are in place yet.
“Some people think you start a committee and you’re immediately going to have new laws or change something,” said Vinyard, “but obviously things take a long time.”
So until that time, the best way to protect pedestrians is to encourage actively monitoring the road when walking.
“It’s kind of like with defensive driving,” said Lt Denogean. “When you’re driving you don’t just want to worry about what you’re doing. You’re focusing out and looking at what other people are doing. You’re trying to be aware of the surroundings and your situation.”
And because the biggest concern whether in a car or on foot is other vehicles, watching what the drivers are doing is the best way to prevent collisions, injury and death.