Archive for Sunday, August 16, 2009

Crash: A look at the frequency, locations and other factors involved in wrecks in Lawrence

Careful drivers key to safer roads

August 16, 2009


Accidents happen. In fact, thousands of traffic accidents happen every year in Lawrence.

The Journal-World and 6News analyzed all 3,106 accidents reported to Lawrence Police between June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009, and our two-day traffic accident series beginning today examines the many factors involved in these crashes.

Accidents occur most often on the city’s busiest intersections and roadways. Iowa, 23rd, Sixth, Ninth, Tennessee and Kentucky streets account for 45 percent of all accidents in the past year.

Accidents occur during the busiest driving times of the day, with about a third of them occurring between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The data also shows a spike in accidents in September as college students return to Lawrence. The number of accidents dips during the summer months, when many of the students leave.

Inclement weather doesn’t appear to have a large effect on traffic accidents in Lawrence when compared with the daily average of 8.5 accidents. On the 99 days it rained in Lawrence last year, there were an average of 8.6 accidents. The average increased some on the 14 days it snowed, up to 10.8 per day.

New Year’s and New Year’s Eve experienced more accidents. But on other holidays, such as the Fourth of July, there were fewer than the daily average.

Kansas University home football game days have more accidents, about 15 per day. But on KU basketball game days, there are an average of fewer than eight per day.

Accident causes

We know where and when they happen, but are these accidents an inevitable byproduct of busy roadways in a busy college town? And is there more that can be done to reduce the number of accidents in Lawrence?

The most common causes cited for accidents are drinking and driving, not paying attention, using electronic devices and driving too fast.

But what really works to convince drivers that they need to modify their behavior? More police presence and the possibility of a ticket is the most effective way to reduce accidents, says Pete Bodyk, manager of traffic safety for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

“For a lot of people to change behavior, they’re more concerned with getting a ticket than getting into a crash,” said Bodyk.

Increasing the amount of tickets police hand out has been successful in reducing accidents in cities such as Boulder, Colo.

Boulder instituted a “high-visibility team approach” by focusing police presence at three of the city’s most dangerous intersections, said Sarah Huntley, public information officer for the Boulder Police Department.

Tickets issued in 2008 increased by more than 50 percent, and accidents dropped by 11 percent.

The Lawrence Police Department also implements targeted enforcement on accident-prone areas, said Sgt. Bill Cory, but loading intersections with police and handing out more tickets has its problems as well.

For one, it’s an expensive option that cuts down on police manpower to deal with other problems, said Cory.

Often there is a backlash from the public when traffic enforcement increases, said Leonard Evans, traffic safety researcher and author of the 2004 book “Traffic Safety.” He said motorists don’t like having to pay hefty traffic fines.

“They think it’s part of taxation,” said Evans, who discounts that mindset.

Evans said that the easiest way to reduce accidents is to add red-light cameras, where cities issue tickets by mail to drivers who run red lights.

Red-light cameras would require a legislative change to become legal in Kansas, but Lawrence City Manager Dave Corliss said the city supports pursuing a possible legislative change.

Kansas City, Mo., recently implemented red-light cameras, and city officials say they have seen a drastic reduction in red-light violators.

Traffic engineering

While traffic accidents occur at busy times and on busy roads, it’s a little more complicated to say which intersections are the most dangerous, or whether such roadways could be made safer.

Identifying where they most frequently occur oversimplifies how accident-prone a particular intersection is, said David Woosley, a traffic engineer for city of Lawrence. Woosley said there are a lot of factors to account for, including traffic counts, number of accidents and seriousness of accidents that occur.

Woosley said that every few years the city compiles data on streets and intersections in that are problematic. The city uses the data to examine roadways that rate as dangerous and study whether roadway changes would reduce accidents. The last report was made in 2008, but city officials said the report is still being reviewed and is not yet available.

‘It’s a starting point’

Even if a roadway rates high on frequency and severity of accidents, Woosley said that in many cases, focusing simply on street design may not make a difference.

“It’s a starting point,” said Woosley of studies that reveal dangerous roadways. But he said that most accidents are caused by driver error, and changes to roadways won’t make a driver pay more attention.

“In most crashes, (there’s) not something you can do,” Woosley said of the limits of changes a city can make to roadways and intersections, such as altering traffic lights or signals, widening roads or adding turn lanes.

‘Obey the law’

Public opinion on road changes can also play a role in changes a city wants to make to improve road safety.

An example is a debate in the 1990s about city proposals to make changes to Iowa Street. Rear-end collisions were occurring on Iowa as drivers waited to make left-turns onto University Drive and Stratford. Several changes were discussed, such as adding left turn lanes on Iowa, or adding a median that would prevent turn lanes. Hillcrest area residents fought against both proposals, arguing that adding turn lanes would increase traffic on their streets, while adding a median would prevent them from accessing their streets from Iowa.

In the end, no changes were made.

Regardless of what route a city takes to reduce traffic accidents, whether it be through increased enforcement or traffic changes, the public has an obligation to support efforts to reduce accidents, said Evans, the traffic safety researcher and author.

“You’re not reaching for a high goal. All you’re asking of citizens is to obey the law,” he said. “Should we not be making heroic efforts to reduce (accidents)?”


BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

Glad to see those expensive roundabouts are really working since they were installed on the less travelled streets.

From the article: "But he (David Woosley, traffic engineer for the City of Lawrence) said that most accidents are caused by driver error, and changes to roadways won’t make a driver pay more attention."

Does this mean the roundabouts were a big waste of our tax dollars?

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

List of countries that ban cellphone use while driving Jun 6, 2009 ... Listing of countries and US states that have bans on driving while using a mobile phone. =========================== By Suzanne Choney updated 2:19 p.m. CT, Tues., July 21, 2009

As long as seven years ago, the federal National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration recommended that drivers not use cell phones, even with hands-free equipment, while on the road except in emergencies. But that recommendation was never made public until today.

The proposals from the agency in 2002 and 2003 were only made public Tuesday by The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, two public interest groups that filed a lawsuit to obtain the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. =========================== The National Safety Council has called for a wholesale ban on motorist use of wireless devices, creating a public-relations dilemma for a cellphone industry that advocates safe driving and no longer opposes state hands-free prohibitions, but likely would oppose more sweeping legislation.

“Studies show that driving while talking on a cellphone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash,” said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the NSC. “Driving drunk is also dangerous and against the law. When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cellphone away.”

Numerous people complain about cell phone and texting drivers in Lawrence. One cyclist was simply run over because the driver was so occupied with cell phone conversation he did not notice the cyclist who was riding on a road known for cyclists.

In Lawrence is it unusual NOT to see a driver with a cell phone in one hand and one hand on the wheel? Yes that is unsual NOT to see someone talking or checking messages.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Roundabouts are designed to slow traffic and allow traffic to keep moving instead of creating traffic congestion by bringing cars to a complete halt. At 19th and Barker it is working not to mention how great it is not having to stop when no other cars are anywhere near the intersection.

It's always good to allow traffic to keep flowing.

Drivers are the problem not streets and roundabouts.

Chris Ogle 8 years, 7 months ago

Students are back... watch out cowboy.

GardenMomma 8 years, 7 months ago

"Evans [Leonard Evans, traffic safety researcher and author] said that the easiest way to reduce accidents is to add red-light cameras, where cities issue tickets by mail to drivers who run red lights."

I wondered when they were going to bring this up.

Jd Finch 8 years, 7 months ago

Can you guys post the spreadsheet with the data in it? Also, do you have data covering anything prior to the June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009 data you examined?


vega 8 years, 7 months ago

Many Lawrence drivers cannot figure out roundabouts and 4-way intersections - how they have got their licences in the first place?

GardenMomma 8 years, 7 months ago

Once you pass your driving exam, you only need to pass a written exam every six years when you renew your license.

Many people apparently don't apply what they read in the test booklet....i.e. signal 100 feet before you turn, when two cars are approaching a stop sign at the same time the driver on the right goes first, a complete stop is 3 seconds long, yield is not a complete stop, it means yield to oncoming traffic, pedestrians always get the right of way, even if they are jaywalking....etc.

tym4fun 8 years, 7 months ago

How can most accidents in Lawrence occur on major roadways at 45%? That means 55% occur on less traveled roadways. So their point is. Most accidents occur on less traveled roadways. Why did they even write this article? I think it's getting us prepared for higher ticket quota . (50% more tickets on major roadways for 11% reduced accidents on less traveled roadways) yep

BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

I'd like to know how many accidents have been recorded at any of our high dollar roundabouts in town, as they were originally touted as the safest thing out there when the Progressive commission was set on building them from here to Timbuktu. Any data on that, or would the city rather keep that info under wraps?

GardenMomma 8 years, 7 months ago

No, tym4fun, I think it's getting us ready for red-light cameras. There isn't enough police or money to man the intersections to write tickets. It's all going to be automated with the cameras.

Maddy Griffin 8 years, 7 months ago

We already have a few of those red-light cameras. If they are not legal to use in Kansas, why was our money spent to install them?

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

Big Prune is scared of things that are different than what he is used to.

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

On the other side of the coin, the roundabouts as they are made here, with pretty things like fountains and brick mounds and flowers, are pointless wastes of money.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 7 months ago

There is no way to get drivers to watch where they are going. I am terrified every time I have to walk across the street. No one seems to be aware of the rule concerning pedestrians. I was almost across Iowa at 25th when a woman in an SUV came barreling around the corner and stopped about one inch from me. Drivers don't expect to see anyone walking across a street and if they do it is like the walker belongs to an alien species.

workinghard 8 years, 7 months ago

I can't believe nobody has brought up the fact that two of the streets with the highest accidents are where school kids must now cross to get to Schwegler school.

Sigmund 8 years, 7 months ago

Despite merrill's hatred of anything invented after 1950's and despite the conventional wisdom, studies show that despite the dramatic growth of cell phones in recent years, accident rates are declining nationwide.

"It's conventional wisdom that talking on cell phones while driving is risky business, but two University of California, Berkeley, graduate student economists report that a spike in cell phone use in recent years and on weekday evenings is not matched by an increase in fatal or non-fatal car crashes from 2002-2005."

"Yet, when the UC Berkeley researchers examined the number of fatal vehicular accidents from 1987 to 2005 in all states, as well the number of all crashes in seven states in roughly the same period, they found the crash rate had remained flat or had fallen. Plus, the crash rate declined steadily over the course of a typical weekday evening, even after 9 p.m., reflecting a pattern almost unchanged since the early 1990s when few people owned cell phones, they say in their report, "Driving Under the (Cellular) Influence: The Link Between Cell Phone Use and Vehicle Crashes."

"Maybe drivers aren't as irrational as we think they are," said Bhargava. "In real life, people may be aware of the risks of cell phones, and they may adjust their driving behavior."

"The researchers said drivers on cell phones may move into slower traffic lanes, increase the distance between their cars and others, or pull over to the side of the road to talk. They may also "substitute" across sources of risk by talking on the phone instead of, for example, fiddling with the radio or conversing with a fellow passenger. Maybe cell phone use helps to keep some drivers, such as long-distance truckers, awake and alert, Bhargava and Pathania said. They also theorized that cell phone use is more problematic when driving in poor weather conditions or for drivers in certain demographic groups, such as teenagers."

somebodynew 8 years, 7 months ago

grammaddy - no, not entirely correct. There are "cameras" at certain intersections. They are not red light cameras (at least in Lawrence) and no one has gotten any tickets.

The cameras you see are traffic monitors which indicate when someone is sitting at a light. There used to be sensors buried in the road for that, but they have figured out that the lights are actually cheaper, due to replacing the sensors anytime you have to repair the roadway.

Plus, they are not set up correctly to function that way. They don't record information and for a ticket to be issued I think you have to get a picture of the driver and the license tag. The way these are set up you would only get the front of the car, and Kansas tags are on the back of the car. (At least the ticket my wife got from one of those elsewhere included both shots.)

Sigmund 8 years, 7 months ago

Seamus (Anonymous) says… "Right, because beautifying the public realm is a “waste” of money."

Compared to the current budget shortfall and other priorities (fire, police, basic services, etc) it is a waste of money. Taxpayer money is not a unlimited resource despite what your local politician will tell you.

mom_of_three 8 years, 7 months ago

I love the roundabout at 19th & barker, especially when it's used correctly. Just last week, I was going east on 19th street, and entered the roundabout, following several cars. There was a truck waiting on Barker, heading North, yielding, as he should. The cars ahead of him didn't seem to bother him, but he briefly let up his brakes as I entered (directly behind the car in front of me, as I should), and then honked at me when I didn't stop to let him him. I shoook my head the entire time, because he is to yield to oncoming traffic, not the other way around.
Every once in a while, some yahoo who doesn't understand how to drive the roundabout will stop to let someone in when they shouldn't and it drives me crazy.
Oh, and never follow a school bus in a roundabout. Why they take it, I don't know, because they can't drive it like a normal person. It took forever.....

Sigmund 8 years, 7 months ago

The influx of new college student drivers, every year, year after year, who are unfamiliar with Lawrence roads (which streets are one-way, which to avoid during certain hours days) is likely the single largest factor contributing to accidents in Lawrence.

Despite the hype, I haven't seen anything to indicate that accidents rates go down (compared with red light violations which usually "dark yellow") at intersections with red light cameras or roads with speed cameras.

Still I am all for reducing the number of injury and non-injury accidents in Lawrence, and the article provides a clue, "Tickets issued in 2008 increased by more than 50 percent, and accidents dropped by 11 percent." No need for more road furniture, traffic cameras, left turn lanes, or cell phone bans. Just increased consistent enforcement of current rules. It isn't sexy but it has been shown to work.

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

"Right, because beautifying the public realm is a “waste” of money."

Ooh, change a specific example into an all-encompassing absolute! Clever clever!

As a general rule, I'd rather our reps focus on something more quantifiable and productive than beauty projects, especially when a year or two later they're telling us that they don't have enough money to bus children to school.

Sigmund 8 years, 7 months ago

jayhawkster (Anonymous) says… "Can you guys post the spreadsheet with the data in it? Also, do you have data covering anything prior to the June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009 data you examined? Thanks"

Me too.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 7 months ago

as usual Merrill is totally full of cr*p.

keeping the traffic moving constantly makes those intersections dangerous for pedestrians, who do not get a designated walk opportunity like at a signal.

Seamus (Anonymous) says… “Right, because beautifying the public realm is a “waste” of money.”

Compared to the current budget shortfall and other priorities (fire, police, basic services, etc) it is a waste of money. Taxpayer money is not a unlimited resource despite what your local politician will tell you.

furthermore, all the hooey stuck in the middle of the roundies further decreases visibility across the roundies, further endangering pedestrians.

please note: the user "driedoregano" is in reality the former Bronze/cool/ocean/rusty2/ariadne/spiderman/et al...he's shooting for his 9th time of being TOSsed off LJWorld.

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago

I think you bring too much of the snark to the table yourself for me to take that too seriously, Seamus.

And personally, I can occasionally enjoy the aesthetics of synthetic things.

jonas_opines 8 years, 7 months ago


synthetic aesthetics or aesthetic synthetics

Sounds like the name of a band or an album.

Definitely the first one.

Romans832 8 years, 7 months ago

Cheeseburger asks: did anyone notice that every single intersection in the 'top 10' is a signalized intersection?

My theory: many of the causes of traffic accidents can be narrowed down to one factor: selfishness. Failure to yield. Alcohol. Speed. Red light violation. Stop sign violation. Reckless driving. "I can't be bothered with any rules or regulations, such as speed limits or red lights. I am the center of the universe." I also believe it's an outgrowth of the attitude that it's OK for pedestrians, runners, and bikers to cross on red lights, and police officers don't seem to discourage that. Precious seconds wasted while waiting for the light to change! So why should we expect those same people to do anything different when behind the wheel?

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