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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - May/Jun 2008

May/Jun 2008
Issue No:
Vol. 71 No. 6
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Focusing on Pedestrian Safety

by Kohinoor Kar and Sreelatha Gajula

Researchers in Arizona are trying to pinpoint when, where, and why pedestrians are killed on U.S. roadways.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) is installing pedestrian countdown signals at intersections, such as this one at Chandler and Lankershim Boulevards, as part of a project to upgrade traffic signals citywide with LEDs. Los Angeles, along with Chicago, New York City, and Phoenix, is a focus city for efforts to improve pedestrian safety. Photo: Michael Dinh, LADOT, Field Operations Bureau.

Approximately 8.7 percent of the total trips made in the United States each year are made exclusively by walking, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Summary of Travel Trends: 2001 National Household Travel Survey. People who choose not to drive, cannot drive, or do not have a driver’s license or motor vehicle usually depend on walking for their day-to-day trips, often along with other transportation modes, such as public transit.

The Uniform Vehicle Code, a comprehensive set of motor vehicle and traffic laws prepared by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances as a guide or standard for States’ laws, defines a “pedestrian” as “any person afoot.” During the 5-year period 2001–2005, pedestrian fatalities in the United States averaged about 11 percent of all roadway traffic fatalities nationwide, according to Traffic Safety Facts, published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).Pedestrian fatalities are much higher in urban areas, accounting for 25 to 40 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, published by FHWA and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. In 2006, fatalities were approximately 1.6 percent of all traffic injuries in the police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes nationwide. Pedestrian fatalities were much higher, approximately 7.3 percent of all pedestrian injuries.

“Pedestrians are the most vulnerable roadway users, and unlike drivers, they represent every age group and include people with accessibility issues and other physical and visual disabilities,” says Mike Cynecki, traffic engineering supervisor with the Street Transportation Department of Phoenix, AZ. In fact, everyone is a pedestrian at one time or another, when walking from one mode of travel (car, bus, bike, or train) to the front door of their destination.

As part of its efforts to improve pedestrian safety, FHWA identified four “focus cities” that have high numbers of pedestrian fatalities: Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; and Phoenix, AZ. Researchers affiliated with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) recently conducted an independent study focused on determining the factors, related to both drivers and pedestrians, that contributed to the pedestrian fatal crashes in these cities, which could be useful in identifying countermeasures to help improve safety.

FHWA Sets the Bar

FHWA established a goal to continually improve highway safety by reducing pedestrian crashes, fatalities, and injuries by 10 percent. Along with crash reductions in other focus areas, the pedestrian safety goal is intended to help achieve the overall U.S. Department of Transportation goal of reducing roadway-related fatalities from 1.5 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to 1.0 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by 2011.

To advance this effort, FHWA identified 14 “focus” States (including the District of Columbia) and the aforementioned cities as areas  to target for improvements in pedestrian safety based on 2005 crash data. Each of the focus States faced more than 150 pedestrian fatalities, or a fatality rate above 2.5 per 100,000 population in 2005.

“With close to 5,000 pedestrians being killed on our Nation’s roads each year, improving pedestrian safety is one of the FHWA Office of Safety’s top priorities,” says Tamara Redmon, team leader for the office’s Pedestrian & Bicycle Program. “More data on pedestrian exposure and safety research in general are needed to determine the scope of the problem and the best ways to combat it. At the same time, FHWA hopes to make an impact on the problem by focusing resources on the 14 States and 4 cities with the biggest pedestrian safety problems.”

Data Analysis

FHWA identified the focus cities based solely on pedestrian fatalities in 2005. For the present study, the ADOT researchers analyzed pedestrian fatal crashes occurring in these cities during 2001–2005, using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). The FARS data included crash, person, and vehicle information for each of the cities for the 5 years. The researchers combined the data to obtain summary information for each city by year. The study excluded crashes where only the driver and/or occupant(s) sustained fatal injuries, even though a pedestrian might have sustained nonfatal injuries during the crash. Next, the researchers calculated the annual pedestrian crash averages for each  of the cities and grouped them to identify crash patterns.

Data relating to the roadway conditions and driver and pedestrian behaviors at the time of each crash also were collected from various resources, such as police reports and FARS. The researchers studied all roadway, pedestrian, and driver behavioral conditions coded in FARS, but further analyzed a few conditions based on their percentage occurrences. These roadway conditions included the type of road, location of the crash relative to an intersection, traffic flow, and lighting at the crash site. Driver behaviors studied included whether the driver was operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, ran off the road, was in the improper lane, failed to yield to the pedestrian, or was speeding. Pedestrian behaviors included whether the pedestrian darted into the road, crossed improperly, walked with or against traffic, had a physical impairment, or disobeyed traffic signs.

The researchers pulled data on the demographic characteristics of the focus cities from the U.S. Census Bureau. Types of demographic data included population, income levels, and number of families owning vehicles.

A number of data deficiencies existed that compounded the difficulty in finding the likely causes of the pedestrian fatalities. Data on pedestrian volumes (the number of pedestrians crossing at a particular section of the road at midblock or intersection, or particular side of an intersection during a specific interval of time) typically were not available, possibly due to the resources necessary for data collection by the roadway owner agency.

 Information on the purposes of the pedestrian trips — trip attractors (destinations) and generators (places where pedestrians start their trips) — and the presence or absence of sidewalks are crucial to understanding the causes of pedestrian crashes and crash severities; however, these data were not readily available. Coding errors, such as errors in jurisdictional reporting, street names, directions of travel, and others, created additional challenges for the crash analysis. Coding inconsistencies between jurisdictions also led to differences in the patterns of driver and pedestrian contributing factors. 

Despite these challenges, the researchers analyzed the data available in the U.S. census and FARS databases, and produced the following summary of key demographic, driver/pedestrian behavior, and crash information for each city.

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Failure to yield and hit and run are major driver contributing factors in all four focus cities. Failure to yield might be associated with roadway inadequacies and behavioral issues, whereas hit and run is likely a behavioral issue requiring stricter law enforcement. Source: ADOT.


Defining “pedestrian.” Illinois defines a pedestrian as “any person afoot including a person with a physical, hearing, or visual disability.”

Demographics. The population of Chicago is approximately 2.7 million, according to the 2005 census. This includes the 18 percent of families with incomes below the poverty level, the 22 percent of households that do not own automobiles, and the 5 percent of workers 16 or older who walk to work. The researchers looked at the latter demographic statistics as indicators of the number of people who are likely to walk or use public transit to get around.

Driver behaviors. Failure to yield, hit and run, and speeding were major contributing factors on the part of drivers in Chicago.

Pedestrian behaviors. Walking with or against traffic, improper crossing of the roadway, and not being visible to drivers were among the major factors attributed to  pedestrian actions. (The Illinois  Vehicle Code states: “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a moving vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”)

Crash timing. Approximately 33 percent of pedestrian fatal crashes occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Crash location. The majority occurred on urban local roads or streets, at nonjunction locations, on roads that were not physically divided, and on roads that were in dark but lighted conditions (that is, the crash occurred in darkness, but street lighting was present).

Los Angeles

Defining “pedestrian.” California defines a pedestrian as “any person who is afoot or who is using a means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle.” This includes a person operating “a self-propelled wheelchair, invalid tricycle, or motorized quadricycle” when that person is disabled and “otherwise unable to move about as a pedestrian.”

Demographics. The population of Los Angeles is approximately 3.7 million, according to the 2005 census. This includes the 17 percent of families with incomes below the poverty level, the 13 percent of households that do not own automobiles, and the 3 percent of workers 16 or older who walk to work.

Driver behaviors. Hit and run, failure to yield, and speeding were major contributing factors by drivers in Los Angeles.

Pedestrian behaviors. Major pedestrian-related contributing factors involved failure to yield (California law states that “no pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard”), improper crossing, walking with or against traffic, and darting/running into the road.

Crash timing. Approximately 48 percent of pedestrian fatal crashes occurred between 5 p.m. and midnight.

Crash location. The majority of fatal crashes occurred on urban other principal arterials (major roadways, excluding interstates and freeways, that do not have controlled access), at nonjunction locations, on roads that were not physically divided, and on roads that were in dark but lighted conditions.

New York City

Defining “pedestrian.” New York defines a pedestrian as “any person who is afoot or in a wheelchair.”

Demographics. The population of New York City is approximately 8.0 million, according to the 2005 census. This includes the 17 percent of families with below-poverty-level incomes, the 51 percent of households without automobiles, and the 9 percent of workers 16 or older who walk to work.

Driver behaviors. Driver hit and run, inattention, failure to yield, and speeding were major contributing factors in the New York crashes.

Pedestrian behaviors. Major pedestrian-related contributing factors included improper crossing of the roadway and darting or running into the road.

(According to New York State law, “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield.”)

Crash timing. Approximately 35 percent of pedestrian fatal crashes occurred between 5 p.m. and midnight.

Crash location. The majority of fatal crashes occurred on urban other principal arterials, at intersections, on roads that were not physically divided, and during daylight hours. Further, according to Emmett McDevitt, a transportation safety engineer with the FHWA New York Division Office, data from New York State in 2006 showed that 35 percent of the pedestrians killed were over 65.

Improper crossing tends to be the most common pedestrian problem in the focus cities. Both roadway inadequacies and behavioral factors could contribute to the problem. Source: ADOT.


Defining “pedestrian.” Arizona defines a pedestrian as “any person who is afoot. A person who uses an electric personal assistive mobility device or a manual or motorized wheelchair is considered a pedestrian unless the manual wheelchair qualifies as a bicycle.”

Demographics. The population of Phoenix is approximately 1.4 million, according to the 2005 census. This includes the 14 percent of families with below-poverty-level incomes, the 8 percent of households without automobiles, and the 2 percent of workers 16 or older who walk to work.

Even though pedestrians comprise less than 2 percent of the total annual crashes, in 2005 they accounted for 4.4 percent of the total roadway injuries and nearly 30 percent of roadway fatalities, according to Cynecki, the Phoenix traffic engineer. In 2005, 612 pedestrians were struck by motor vehicles, resulting in 572 injuries and 49 deaths.  

Phoenix employs portable 15-mile (24-kilometer)-per-hour signs along with a no-passing regulation in school zones to help calm traffic and protect children and other pedestrians.

Driver behaviors. Driver hit and run, speeding, and obscured vision were major contributing factors in Phoenix.

Pedestrian behaviors. Major pedestrian-related contributing factors involved improper crossing, failure to yield, and darting or running into the road. (Arizona Revised Statutes state that “a pedestrian shall not suddenly leave any curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.”)

Crash timing. Approximately 56 percent of pedestrian fatal crashes occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Crash location. The majority of the fatal crashes occurred on urban other principal arterials; at nonjunction locations; on roads with two-way continuous, left-turn lanes; and in dark but lighted conditions.

Building underpasses beneath some wide city streets, as shown here, has helped Phoenix protect pedestrians.

Comparison Among Cities

All four cities defined “pedestrian” at least as “any person afoot,” along with different additions, such as a person using a wheelchair or a person using a means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle. This implies that, by definition, the majority of pedestrians are “persons afoot.”

Because the focus cities vary substantially in their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, comparing them in order to discern commonalities or a lack thereof is difficult. Therefore, the researchers discussed a few prominent contributing factors prevalent in these  cities. Hit and run was the most prominent driver contributing factor in all four cities. Note the distinction between a hit and run, where the driver leaves the scene of the crash, and a crash in which the driver stays and notifies the police and emergency medical services (EMS). In the latter case, the chances are greater that the EMS will arrive in time to save the victim and prevent a fatality. Another notable assumption about hit and run is that the driver might have left the scene because he or she was intoxicated or otherwise impaired, which could mean that statistics  regarding operating a vehicle under  the influence, as a contributing factor to pedestrian crashes, are greatly underreported.

Other contributing factors common in all the cities were failure to yield and speeding. Improper crossing, including jaywalking, was a major pedestrian contributing factor in the four cities. Other major factors were pedestrians hit while walking with or against traffic and darting or running into the road.

“Our wide streets, heavy traffic, and good traffic flow [in Phoenix] often result in motorists driving too fast for conditions,” says Cynecki. “The wide streets and typically higher speeds make it difficult for pedestrians to cross, often resulting in barriers to the community or pedestrians taking chances while crossing.”

From the analysis by time of day, most pedestrian fatal crashes occurred in the evening or at night in dark but lighted conditions.

The researchers considered functional classifications of both urban and rural roadways in these analyses. Most of the fatal crashes occurred on urban roadways and at midblock locations in three of the four cities. Pedestrians tend to choose the shortest paths to their destinations and cross roadways midblock, where drivers least expect pedestrians.

Cynecki continues: “Ironically, the downtown [Phoenix] area is not where we are experiencing the most crashes despite the fact that this is the area with the highest number of pedestrians. The higher speed suburban arterial streets are where the majority of our pedestrian crashes occur, where it is more difficult to cross. Higher speeds also result in more severe injuries.”

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Evening peak hours showed most of the pedestrian fatal crashes in all four focus cities. Several factors, such as inadequate lighting or pedestrians wearing dark clothes, could underlie these crashes. Source: ADOT.

Opportunities for  Further Studies

The present study was limited to analyzing pedestrian fatal crashes in the focus cities, each of which differs substantially in its demographic characteristics. Detailed analyses using data on both fatal and injury crashes could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalent issues. However, the trends in pedestrian fatal crashes give an indication of pedestrian safety performance in these cities. Once the detailed types of crashes or contributing factors are identified, the focus cities and any roadway agency can use the Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool or any other approach to identify potential countermeasures to improve pedestrian safety.

As the research revealed, all the focus cities have issues related to driver and/or pedestrian behavior. However, engineering solutions that affect the functional and operational characteristics of the roadways and selection of pedestrian safety countermeasures could play a role in offsetting some of the behavioral problems.

Despite the insights garnered from the present study, the researchers contend that a detailed evaluation of high crash sites, corridors, or areas is necessary before developing countermeasures. Further research should look at resolving the aforementioned data issues. Pedestrian crashes involving children and elderly pedestrians, crashes in work zones, and crashes involving people with disabilities should be analyzed separately. Future research also might glean trends regarding crashes occurring during special events, at recreational areas, and near medical centers and shopping areas with substantial walking activity.

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The researchers discovered a clear prevalence of nonjunction crashes in all four focus cities. Pedestrians crossing at undesignated midblock locations or jaywalking are usually the victims of these crashes. Source: ADOT

On the Move  To Improve

Identifying the most likely causes of pedestrian injuries and fatalities can help cities and States allocate their resources to achieve improved safety. Therefore, considering all “the E’s” (most commonly engineering, enforcement, and education, as well as emergency medical services, encouragement, and evaluation) in developing countermeasures is crucial to addressing the pedestrian safety issues. Depending on the crash contributing factors that create pedestrian safety issues and/or roadway inadequacies, roadway agencies might choose a single “E” or a combination of more than one. Efforts are underway in each city to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

Phoenix. In Phoenix, for example, pedestrian fatalities, although still too high at 49 in 2005, are down from 63 in 2001 and 61 in 2002, according to Cynecki.

Phoenix is no longer building arterial streets with sidewalks immediately adjacent to the travel lanes, Cynecki says. All new arterial streets have landscaped buffer areas between pedestrians and traffic to improve safety and enhance the walking experience. Onstreet bike lanes provide an additional buffer for pedestrian safety.

Landscape buffers, like this one in Phoenix, separate the sidewalk from the travel lane and create a safer environment for pedestrians.

Following participation in an international scan tour on signalized intersection safety, Phoenix officials began building two-stage crossings with pedestrian safety islands across wide arterial streets. These crossings allow pedestrians to cross only half a street, forcing them to walk in the fenced pedestrian median island facing oncoming traffic before crossing the second half of the street. In fact, one of the two-stage crossing/pedestrian safety islands was constructed directly as a result of an FHWA training course and workshop, according to Cynecki.

Phoenix initiated a School Safety Program in 2002 to make walking and bicycling trips to school safer for students. Some of the countermeasures include a program to enforce speed limits by using cameras and stand-back lines (a line painted on the sidewalk indicating where students should wait to cross) at crossings, along with improved crossing-guard training and monitoring.

Two-stage crosswalks like this one in Phoenix are the result of pedestrian safety initiatives taken by the city with technical support from FHWA. This countermeasure is helping to reduce pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Arizona. Note the fence to help protect pedestrians as they cross the street.

Other measures implemented include annual pedestrian safety audits, “road diets” (reconfiguring a four-lane undivided street, with two lanes in each direction, to two travel lanes, a center turn lane, and two bike lanes) in at least five locations, addition of a countdown feature to some pedestrian signals, and continuance of sidewalk retrofit projects in developed areas that were lacking adequate or safe pedestrian walkways. In addition to making it safer to walk, Phoenix wants to encourage more people to walk, as it is the most environmentally friendly and healthy form of transportation, Cynecki says.

At the State level, ADOT is taking the lead in developing a statewide pedestrian safety action plan. Arizona’s plan will consist of individual pedestrian safety plans from ADOT, the city of Phoenix, and others. One of the effective tools being used to investigate issues with nonmotorized traffic (such as pedestrian) safety in Arizona is the road safety assessment. ADOT also is managing the Safe Routes to School Program with funding for infrastructure and noninfrastructure projects throughout the State.

Chicago. In Chicago, the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MPAC), composed of transportation professionals and representatives of pedestrian advocacy groups, was formed in 2006 to improve pedestrian safety and access to public transit, schools, workplaces, shops, libraries, parks, roads, and other public spaces. The committee also promotes policies and practices that will advance pedestrian mobility as a desirable and viable form of transportation and recreation. Other duties include providing a forum for input and participation in pedestrian health, safety, convenience, and comfort issues and promoting awareness and responsibility to pedestrians and other road users.

MPAC provides feedback on development of Chicago’s Pedestrian Plan, which is scheduled for completion in 2008 and includes an evaluation of existing conditions and recommendations for pedestrian safety improvements.

The intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Canal Street in Chicago, shown here, features highly visible crosswalks lined up with the sidewalks and curb ramps.

In 2006, Chicago launched Safe Streets for Chicago, a traffic and pedestrian safety program that combines the efforts of several city departments. A key element of the program was Chicago’s Complete Streets policy, requiring that “the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight, and motor vehicle drivers shall be accommodated and balanced in all types of transportation and development projects and through all phases of a project so that even the most vulnerable — children, elderly, and persons with disabilities — can travel safely within the public right of way.”

Los Angeles. With a jurisdiction that covers 1,217 square kilometers (470 square miles), the Los Angeles metropolitan area includes rural, high-density urban, and industrial sections with numerous subcommunities. According to Transportation Engineer Crystal Killian with the city of Los Angeles’ pedestrian program, the city is incorporating streetscape elements near light rail transit stations, rapid bus corridors, and other high-activity centers. The city also adopted a walkability checklist for site plan reviews, asking architects and developers to consider architectural features that link the facility to the street to create better pedestrian environments.

From the operations perspective, Los Angeles has numerous programs in place to assist pedestrians. For example, in neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jewish residents (who are prohibited from work, which includes pushing a pedestrian signal button, on the Sabbath), the city programmed the pedestrian signals to operate automatically from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Similarly, the city programs signal timing to accommodate pedestrian surges at intersections near schools in the morning and early afternoon to facilitate safe crossing for children, and distributes walkable “route to school” maps.

Other ongoing initiatives include creating high-visibility crosswalks, double-posting fluorescent pedestrian crossing signs, and initiating a 5-year effort to upgrade the city’s 4,300 traffic signals with LED lights, a project that also involves installing LED pedestrian countdown signals.

At the State level, where pedestrian fatalities account for 17 percent of all roadway fatalities, a number of activities are underway to combat the high fatality and injury numbers. For example, California is implementing a strategic highway safety plan in which one of the challenge areas is improving the safety of walking and street crossing. Within this area, safety stakeholders identified eight high-priority actions to help reduce fatalities, including developing pedestrian safety improvement programs to identify and improve safety at locations with a high concentration of crashes involving pedestrians, and enhancing pedestrian striping and making other safety upgrades during routine maintenance.

In addition, a diverse group of pedestrian safety stakeholders is drafting a statewide pedestrian safety action plan that will serve as the basis for directing resources in many communities. Further, California is developing a pedestrian safety audit program, which would send safety experts to 18 targeted communities to perform safety audits and identify ways to increase safe mobility for pedestrians.

New York City. In New York City, seniors make up only 12 percent of the population, but they account for 39 percent of pedestrian fatalities, according to the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT). The disproportional representation of the senior population in severe pedestrian injuries and fatalities prompted NYCDOT to launch Safe Streets for Seniors, a program to address the safety of senior pedestrians at 25 locations across the city. The department identified areas within each borough with the highest concentrations of senior pedestrian crashes and will develop short- and long-term measures to create a safer pedestrian environment, specifically for older adults. Ongoing studies will yield recommendations for improving safety, which could include extending pedestrian crossing times at crosswalks and shortening crossing distances, altering curbs and sidewalks, restricting vehicle turns, and narrowing roadways.

New York City’s Safe Streets for Seniors program will help improve pedestrian safety for older adults, such as this woman crossing a street.

New York City also is focusing on improving safety for school children through its Safe Routes to School “priority schools” initiative. NYCDOT already has installed hundreds of short-term safety improvements around 135 priority schools, including new traffic and stop signs, exclusive pedestrian crossing time, speed bumps, high-visibility crosswalks, and school crossing signs. NYCDOT also designed and scheduled long-term capital measures to improve safety, such as sidewalk extensions, refuge islands, and intersection narrowing, at 32 priority schools. Future work includes analyzing the latest crash data to identify the next group of priority schools that will receive similar safety enhancements.

From the outreach and education perspective, the department has developed traffic safety maps for more than 1,400 schools citywide, which help students and parents identify their safest routes to schools by showing the roadway network, school locations, signalized intersections, and designated school crosswalks. NYCDOT also created a guide to help students and parents understand the meanings of traffic and pedestrian signs and markings.

The efforts of the focus cities  and States, coupled with those of the FHWA Office of Safety, to identify problems and implement the most effective countermeasures will help reduce injuries and fatalities, and thereby assist FHWA in accomplishing its national goals for pedestrian safety.

Kohinoor Kar, Ph.D., P.E., is a transportation safety engineer at ADOT. He has a doctorate in civil engineering, specializing in transportation, from Wayne State University in Michigan. He is experienced as a practitioner, researcher, instructor, and consultant, and serves on a number of national and State safety research advisory committees.

Sreelatha Gajula, M.S., is a traffic engineering associate at ADOT. She has been with ADOT since 2005, working with the traffic safety team on various projects related to pedestrian safety, lane departure, and traffic records. She earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from Ohio’s The University of Toledo.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the support provided by Tamara Redmon, of the FHWA Office of Safety, and Karen King, of the FHWA Arizona Division Office, in helping improve pedestrian safety in Arizona.

For more information, contact  Kohinoor Kar at 602–712–6857  or, or Sreelatha Gajula at 602–712–6863 or

Disclaimer: Any statements expressed in this article are those of the individual authors or representatives from the focus cities and do not necessarily represent the views of ADOT.


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