Video evidence: Saving vulnerable users without needing data

Crosswalk at Dock Street in Richmond, Va.Can video evidence replace data when it comes to bike and pedestrian planning? I love this concept. Data collection is hard with bike/ped, and perhaps observing conflict areas over a dedicated period of time could prevent conflicts to vulnerable users…and unnecessary injuries and deaths.

A recent article by Next City detailed a planning process happening in certain cities that is helping to speed up processes in creating safer environments for pedestrians and bicyclists in key transportation areas.

Data is considered essential in transportation planning. But why wait until people get hurt before reacting with a fix when you can use video evidence and the power of observation to predict and prevent danger in areas of conflict (plus, save a lot of money)? From the article, civil engineering professor Tarek Sayed:

“We have to wait for collisions to happen before we can do anything. A fundamental ethical and practical problem which faces traffic engineers is, in order to improve safety, you need a certain number of collisions … which you would try to prevent later,” says the University of British Columbia civil engineering professor. “It’s very reactive.”

Certainly, the traditional way to attack traffic safety is to identify places with a high number of crashes, then make changes at those places and wait a few years to see if the changes reduce crashes. Traffic engineers agree that you need a baseline of around three years of crashes to have statistically significant results.

He says why wait 2-4 years to gather crash data at an intersection, why not use video to assess the habits and behavior of walkers, bicyclists and motorists at intersections?

One of the problems I foresee as a bike/ped planner is the need to have data to back planning proposals. How can you measure the improvements a bike lane will provide if there is no bike lane to help measure the potential success? How can you declare that improving a dangerous intersection by adding bike lanes and sidewalks will bring more cyclists and pedestrians when the dangerous intersection scares people away?

Sometimes it might take a leap of faith…or perhaps good data evidence can be supplemented by anecdotal video evidence. Everyone should want to create a safer place for all of us to live.

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