A downtown Tulsa intersection was transformed Thursday to give Tulsans a glimpse of a potential new design to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety throughout the city.
The Tulsa Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee placed traffic cones and curved bundles of hay at the intersection of Sixth Street and Elgin Avenue to emulate a “protected intersection” design. The hay bundles and cones simulate concrete barriers called refuge islands that decrease the distance pedestrians or bikers must travel to cross the roadway.
The Thursday demonstration reduced the crossing distance from 54 to 22 feet, according to a BPAC press release.
Mitch Drummond, the committee chairman, said protected intersections also reduce risks to pedestrians and pedestrian fatalities by encouraging motorists to slow down.
“We decided that we wanted to do something in honor of Bike Month, then we decided that today would be good because we’re right before Tulsa Tough,” Drummond said. “We have seen protected intersections like this in other cities and countries that can reduce traffic speeds, which will save lives.”
Oklahoma is ranked the No. 14 most dangerous state for pedestrians, according to a study published by Smart Grow America, with 662 pedestrians struck and killed by vehicles from 2010 to 2019. Nationally, the number of people killed while walking has increased 45% in the last decade.
Cyclists in Oklahoma are also notably vulnerable, according to a report from StreetLight Data. Oklahoma is ranked the No. 6 most dangerous state for cyclists and has the ninth most bicycle fatalities per capita.
While volunteers were planning how to set up the temporary intersection adjustments, Drummond said they already noticed concerning driving behavior.
“Last night doing a little bit of pre-planning ... one of our friends had a radar gun so we were seeing people going through the intersection at 35 miles an hour, people making turns at 30 miles an hour,” Drummond said. “Now what we see (with the temporary adjustments) is people are traveling between 18 and 25 miles an hour straight-line and then a little bit slower than that while they’re making the turns.”
Even minor differences in speed significantly impact a pedestrian’s chances of survival. A pedestrian struck by a car traveling at 20 mph has a roughly 90% chance of survival, Drummond said, but only around 10% chance if the car is going 40 mph.
A 2000 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put odds of survival after being hit by a vehicle going 20 mph at around 95% and only 20% if the car is moving 40 mph.
Beyond safety, Drummond said making cities safer for pedestrians and bikers can have a local economic impact.
“Studies that have been done in other U.S. cities see sales tax and sales revenue increase for retail businesses whenever there is walking and bicycling. Other cities have seen between 14% and 29% increase in sales whenever they installed bike lanes,” Drummond said. “I just heard a number yesterday at a meeting that the city of Jones, Oklahoma, installed two blocks of sidewalks, and they had a 20% increase in sales tax revenue.”
BPAC member Larry Mitchell said the group is hopeful city authorities will permit further intersection demonstrations and safety studies.
“We’ve encouraged the city for years. And they’re starting to come on board more to make it a bit easier to permit stuff like this,” Mitchell said. “We can put stuff on the ground that’s temporary, that’s very inexpensive, then we can adjust it on the ground in real time as we see how motorists and people walking or riding bikes respond to it.”
While Mitchell said he’s noticed improvement in biking and pedestrian safety in Tulsa since BPAC was formed in 2012, he said the group is aiming to work with the city to authorize a “comprehensive education program” for motorists, pedestrians and bikers on how to safely utilize bike lanes, alongside future potential intersection adjustments.