Bytes Replace Push Pins In UF Pedestrian Safety Project
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Crossing the street may soon be safer, thanks to a computer program developed at the University of Florida that tells where and how cars and pedestrians cross paths the wrong way.
Using a UF-designed custom add-on in conjunction with existing Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, counties are able to visually assess automobile, bicycle and pedestrian accidents in a region. While computerized crash mapping is used in other parts of the nation, this is the first time a state has undertaken it on such a widespread basis, said Ruth Steiner, a UF urban and regional planning professor and principal investigator for the project.
“Hopes are that with this information counties can find exactly what the problems are and target them specifically,” Steiner said. “It should result in traffic improvement planning and on-the-ground counter measures that reduce injuries and save lives.”
Florida has among the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities in the country — 3.2 per 100,000 residents, or almost twice the national average, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The state’s high rate is often attributed to its large elderly population, influx of tourists and the number of high-speed, limited-access highways.
Until recently, the most common method for mapping crashes has been pin mapping, or identifying crashes on maps with push pins. The maps are photographed and compared from year to year.
By using UF’s GIS-aided mapping program, researchers and traffic safety officials can gather and analyze information more quickly and accurately, said Richard Schneider, also UF urban and regional planning professor and co-principal investigator.
“This is extremely cumbersome and time-consuming when using pin maps, which are static, rigid and do not have computerized databases underlying them,” he said.
Data for mapping crashes comes from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles or from local law enforcement agencies. It is entered into the GIS system and mapped with street and intersection addresses.
Unlike pin mapping, Steiner said, the GIS-aided system can show the types of vehicles and people involved in the crash, as well as weather and road conditions, allowing further analysis of the data.
“Pin mapping only shows where the crash occurred, but with GIS you can spatially analyze the data rather than just relying on the human eye,” she said.
For example, GIS-based maps can show how often crashes involve children near schools, the elderly near senior citizen centers or drunk pedestrians near bars. That kind of information broadens the range of safety planning options for the counties, Steiner said.
“There is a change in mentality from thinking about crashes in terms of engineering to thinking about it more broadly, in terms of planning and the use of education and enforcement,” she said.
For the project, the Florida Department of Transportation, which funded study, requested Steiner and Schneider target the 10 counties where 70 percent of all pedestrian crashes in the state occur: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Duval, Volusia, Lee and Polk.
Jonathan Paul, a community planner with Hillsborough County, said the county will make greater use of GIS for pedestrian and bicycle crash mapping, which he said will become more important as bicycling and walking increase.
“The crash mapping has been used as a means to support safety programs for bicycle and pedestrian crashes, and the county has undertaken an inventory of dangerous intersections for motor vehicles and prioritized improvements for them,” he said.
Steiner said the new program has much potential for making the streets safer for pedestrians as well as motorists.
“Pedestrian crash mapping holds a great deal of promise as a tool for understanding the nature of the pedestrian safety problem,” she said.
The Department of Transportation safety office has contracted the UF team to continue the project through September.