Happy International Day of Danger and Death for Pedestrians

©. Walksafe.org

That's an alternate name for Halloween, but let's not forget the rest of the year.

The "International Day of Danger and Death for Pedestrians" is what urban planner Sandy James calls Hallowe'en, because of the spike in the deaths of children who are out trick-or-treating.

John Staples study

© John Staples et al/ Hourly Variation in Mean Pedestrian FatalitiesShe notes that a University of British Columbia study identified Halloween night as having a 43 per cent higher risk of pedestrian deaths than any other night close to that date.

I was originally going to pick up on Doug Gordon's point and suggest that we should just ban driving on Halloween. Jake Offenhartz of the Gothamist does in a post titled We should ban cars on Halloween, quoting Gordon:

Halloween is predictable, the city could easily prepare for it. With a little forward thinking, it'd be pretty easy to designate, let's say, one or two really busy streets in every police precinct and have them be off-limits to cars so kids could have a safe place to walk around, even for a few hours.

Offenhartz quotes the same study as Sandy James, and says children are 10 times as likely to be killed on Halloween (I have read it a few times and don't see that) and suggests stronger action than just a few streets:

We should prohibit driving today — or at least some driving — for the obvious reason that it makes trick-or-treating more enjoyable, but also because adults have frankly forfeited their privilege to get behind the wheel in the vicinity of small costumed humans.

Both Sandy James and Jake Offenhartz link to the same paywalled research letter, Pedestrian Fatalities Associated With Halloween in the United States. We discussed this study last year, and this year, John Staples, lead author of the study, graciously shared it in its entirety with TreeHugger.

My normal War on the Car cri de coeur would be to agree with Offenhartz and Gordon and just say Ban Cars! on Halloween, and I was going to. But looking back at the earlier post, and re-reading the study, I realized that author Staples and his team were far more nuanced. They do note at the start:

Halloween traffic fatalities are a tragic annual reminder of routine gaps in traffic safety. On Halloween and throughout the year, most childhood pedestrian deaths occur within residential neighborhoods.

But the problem isn't Halloween, or the kids not wearing bright clothing. The problem is systemic. The problem is design, and it is a problem all year long.

Such events highlight deficiencies of the built environment (eg, lack of sidewalks, unsafe street crossings), shortcomings in public policy (eg, insufficient space for play), and failures in traffic control (eg, excessive speed).

how to dress for halloween

© Canadian Automobile Association

When we make kids dress in hi-viz and carry big flashlights and do the bright thing, or even ban cars on Halloween, we are dealing with one night per year, when we actually have a year-round problem. Instead, we should be fixing our roads and the pedestrian environment for every night.

Event-specific interventions that may prevent Halloween child pedestrian fatalities include traffic calming and automated speed enforcement in residential neighborhoods. Pedestrian visibility could be improved by limiting on-street parking and incorporating reflective patches into clothing. But restricting these interventions to 1 night per year misses the point, since year-round application of effective traffic safety interventions will foster much greater progress toward eliminating pedestrian fatalities altogether.

There's no victim-blaming here, and really, no concentrating on Halloween on its own. None of this Trunk or Treat stuff. The researchers like Halloween and think it is a good thing, noting:

Halloween trick-or-treating encourages creativity, physical activity, and neighborhood engagement. Trick- or-treating should not be abolished in a misguided effort to eliminate Halloween-associated risk. Instead, policymakers, physicians, and parents should act to make residential streets safer for pedestrians on Halloween and throughout the year.

CC BY 2.0. Seen in my neighborhood/ Lloyd Alter

Seen in my neighborhood/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Sandy James, like TreeHugger, notes that the change in vehicle design doesn't help. Drivers of SUVs and pickups might not even see a child thanks to that high front end, and "pedestrians are twice as likely to die if they are hit by one." The study notes that parked cars make it more difficult to see kids.

But the study makes clear that the Halloween problem is one of degree – more kids die because there are more kids out there. But they die every other night of the year too.

The real problem is that our roads and our vehicles are all dangerous by design. We should be worrying about this all the time; every day is an International Day of Danger and Death for Pedestrians.