UWTS launches pedestrian safety campaign

Step Smart

Step Smart -

Step Smart is a new program that encourages pedestrian vigilance. 

Photo by Anastasia Stepankowsky

Each year there are approximately 500 pedestrian-vehicle collisions in the city of Seattle, with approximately 50 of these collisions resulting in serious injuries.

“It’s [an issue] more prevalent than people realize,” said Alex Quistberg, senior fellow trainee at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center (HIPRC).

A trio of UW entities are now trying to curb this problem in the U-District by launching a walking safety campaign called Step Smart. Designed by UW Transportation Services (UWTS) in conjunction with the School of Public Health and HIPRC, the program looks to offer tips to pedestrians walking around the UW campus and U-District.

The signs posted in various intersections will be staying throughout the three week campaign, which started last week. UW Commute Options manager Celeste Gilman said these signs provide a series of tips numbered from one to six. These six pieces of advice will be listed in order as “Look, Smile, Wave,” “Unplug,” “Watch for vehicles turning right,” “Watch for vehicles turning left,” “Get Noticed,” and “Walk together when it’s late.”

“They are simple but powerful habits,” Gilman said. “If you use them, they will greatly increase your control over your own safety.”

Gilman encourages pedestrians to make friendly gestures like waving and smiling to help communicate with the drivers on their crossing intentions. She also said that “unplugging,” or refraining from electronic devices will heighten the pedestrian’s awareness of their surroundings when crossing. For the final two pieces of advice, she said the driver’s inability to see pedestrians clearly and the prevalence of criminal activity at night were major safety concerns that pedestrians need to be mindful of.

To examine the effectiveness of the campaign, Deb Hinchey, clinical instructor in the School of Public Health, is having students from her class observe pedestrian behavior before, during, and after signs were placed in U-District intersections. Her students spent three hours observing their assigned intersections before the signs arrived and plan to observe for another three hours during the other two phases of the campaign.

Hinchey said her students told her that during the first phase of the campaign, cell phone distraction was a prevalent behavior displayed by the pedestrians.

“I had students tell me that most people were so focused on their cell phones, no one seemed to smile at each other or talk to each other,” Hinchey said. “Because they were just observers, my students were struggling to hold back advice like ‘Watch out, you’re walking the wrong way,’ when these distracted people were crossing the streets in dangerous ways.”

Hinchey expects to see her students apply the in-class research they previously did on pedestrian safety and distracted walking with the observations they gather throughout the campaign. During finals week, Hinchey’s students will formally present their recommendations to UWTS on how to make the campaign more effective.

“I want my students, as assistant researchers, to figure out [answers to] how do you make a successful health campaign and how do you get people to pay attention to this stuff,” Hinchey said.

Quistberg, who is in charge of evaluating and analyzing the campaign’s effectiveness, is hoping to see that the students’ series of observations will point toward a trend that pedestrian behavior improved during and after the placement of the safety signs.

“We are looking for ways to improve safety,” Quistberg said. “Our hope is to make sure we prevent pedestrian-vehicle collision.”

Reach reporter KJ Hiramoto at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @HiramotoJr

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