Pedestrian safety task force launched
The Pedestrian Safety Task Force will look for a trend in recent accidents and give recommendations to city council.
Jun. 03, 2015
After a car struck sophomore Amy Wasowicz last January on her way to class, she became a Missouri Students Association senator to start a conversation about pedestrian safety on campus. Starting next year, she will represent students on Mayor Bob McDavid’s new Pedestrian Safety Task Force.
The 15-member task force will review recent pedestrian accidents and determine their causes. McDavid said he created the task force in response to a rise in pedestrian accidents in Columbia. In the past year, four pedestrians have been killed in pedestrian-related car accidents in Columbia, according to a press release.
On Jan. 22, the same day a car struck Wasowicz, two other pedestrian-involved accidents occurred on campus and one resulted in the death of 24-year-old exchange student Kui Zou.
City Council approved the resolution creating the task force at its May 18 meeting. McDavid appointed First Ward Councilman Rev. Clyde Ruffin and Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas as co-chairmen of the task force.
Other members of the task force are representatives from stakeholders in the city. Thomas said he worked with McDavid and Ruffin to identify groups affected by traffic in Columbia, such as the Columbia Public School District and the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission.
Each group nominated a representative to serve on the task force. An invitation sent to the MSA’s Campus and Community Relations Committee resulted in Wasowicz’s appointment. She said hearing directly from those affected is the first step in solving the problem.
“The people who make the decisions aren’t always the ones who are being faced with the problem,” Wasowicz said.
At the end of its one-year term, the task force will recommend improvements on Columbia’s streets and sidewalks, legislation and education to City Council in hopes of increasing pedestrian safety.
Some improvements, like education campaigns, can be implemented quickly, Thomas said. Others, like changing speed limits and widening roads, may take years. The city, however, has no requirement to fulfill the recommendations.
Thomas said he encourages the public, especially students, to attend the task force’s meetings. Every meeting will end with an opportunity for residents to ask questions and give their input. He also said he would like to see the task force break into smaller sub-committees that include the public as nonvoting members.
Wasowicz said she thinks a change in attitude will improve pedestrian safety, especially on campus. She said students should be more aware of their surroundings.
“(There are) a lot of people who are on their phones and assume that they are perfectly safe because they have the right of way,” she said.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission Chairman Brant Kassel said Columbia has become a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly community. Kassel, a bike commuter himself, said he notices more bikes on Columbia trails now than he did a few years ago.
“The more bikes you have, the safer it is,” he said. “Cars are more used to (bicyclists); they see them more. The more the numbers grow, the better it is for everyone.”
Thomas said he thinks Columbia residents are moving toward a “car-light” lifestyle that the transportation system built over the last 60 years isn’t well-designed for.
“Maybe we need to rethink some of the basic elements of that transportation system to make sure that everyone is adequately protected,” he said.
The rise in pedestrian-involved accidents isn’t limited to Columbia. Pedestrian deaths in the U.S. increased from 4,109 in 2009 to 4,743 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In January 2015, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx created the Mayors' Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets in an effort to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety at a municipal level. Over 200 communities have accepted the challenge, including Columbia, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
McDavid said the task force creates a high profile for the issue and brings experts in. The primary purpose of the task force is to measure the problem, he said.
“Obviously we’d love to have no pedestrian incidents, but that’s probably unrealistic,” he said. “The question is, should we be doing more?”