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Pedestrian safety gets a green light

Painted sign served as a reminder to downtown pedestrians last winter to look both ways.
Painted sign served as a reminder to downtown pedestrians last winter to look both ways.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

The "walking school bus" maintains a set schedule rain or shine, making designated stops to pick up other "passengers."

Students walk two by two behind two adult supervisors. Besides getting children and families healthy through walking, it also reduces traffic around schools, cutting down on the number of parents dropping off students.

It's just one way health and safety advocates are tackling the often-dangerous interactions between pedestrians and vehicles, which are amplified by larger numbers of both in school zones.

Utah has more at stake than most. The metropolitan area encompassing Salt Lake and Ogden is the 20th most dangerous in the country for pedestrians, according to national statistics.

Utah Department of Health data shows that an average of 1,100 pedestrians are hit by automobiles and 40 die each year.

Numbers like that fired up the Davis County SAFE KIDS Coalition in 1998, when it launched the Green Ribbon Month project with Utah Highway Safety. Since then, every September, since that's when most schools are starting full time and drivers are getting reacquainted with school traffic, they've campaigned to raise awareness, getting students and drivers to sign contracts pledging they'll do their part, said Cyndi Bemis, an education coordinator in the health department.

For the students, that part means walking only on sidewalks, if they're available, and crossing only at crosswalks and intersections. Drivers who sign the pledges tie green ribbons to their cars and vow to drive five miles under posted speed limits in school zones and neighborhoods.

"The problem is the same across the country," Bemis said. "We trust our children to make good judgments, but there are always lapses in judgment — by adults, too. And we are dealing with people who are always in a hurry to get places. There's no shortage of neighborhoods in Utah where parent groups complain that cars speed through. They ask for speed trailers that indicate you're driving too fast, to train motorists to go slower, and other calming devices.

Pedestrians are a problem, too. Children need to practice navigating their way across the street not once but many times, Bemis said. "The bottom line is to drill it into your child's head and practice with the child the safe way to cross the street."

The pedestrian-auto safety campaign is picking up steam statewide, Bemis said.

And to the list of tragedies Bemis adds driveway backovers, where drivers don't see toddlers behind their vehicles and run over them as they back out.

These are all examples of "real children suffering real injuries and dying because someone was in a hurry or not looking. We're driven people. We need to get so much done during the day. But in neighborhoods and near schools, we must realize not slowing down could ruin someone's life. No one's in that big a hurry."

Besides the ribbon campaign, other safety measures are planned. Sept. 28, several health, safety and transportation experts will attend a "Safe Routes to School" training in West Valley City. The program helps communities identify barriers to walking and engineer safer streets. Utah was one of 10 states awarded the training course.

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