Across the na­tion, pedes­trian deaths from traf­fic ac­ci­dents are ris­ing. In Santa Fe, an anal­y­sis shows many of those fa­tal­i­ties in­volve drink­ing — but not by driv­ers

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Tripp Stel­nicki

It was near mid­night when the man with a half-empty bot­tle of vodka in his jacket tried to cross the street. He was far from any cross­walk and wear­ing dark clothes. Per­haps most per­ilous, he was on Cer­ril­los Road, where mo­tor ve­hi­cles strike people more of­ten than on any other road­way in Santa Fe.

Francisco Navarette, 41, died that night in Fe­bru­ary, hit by a vehicle driven by a Santa Fe po­lice of­fi­cer who said he didn’t see the man un­til it was too late.

Navarette’s death was in­dica­tive of a big­ger prob­lem: Santa Fe has more pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties on an an­nual ba­sis than the more pop­u­lous cities of Las Cruces and Rio Ran­cho, ac­cord­ing to a New Mex­i­can anal­y­sis of two decades of data on pedes­trian-in­volved ac­ci­dents.

So far in 2017, four pedes­tri­ans have been struck and killed on Santa Fe streets, up from one in all of 2016 and more in line with the six deaths in 2015.

Three of the deaths this year have been on Cer­ril­los Road, and all of those oc­curred out­side cross­walks and at night. And each of the vic­tims was found to be in­tox­i­cated.

The city’s fourth pedes­trian death in 2017 was down­town, a re­flec­tion that Santa Fe’s pedes­trian ac­ci­dents aren’t lim­ited to its big­gest and busiest road­ways.

Alice Sooky­ing Cameron, 49, was cross­ing Paseo de Per­alta at Grif­fin Street in June when she was struck. Cameron was in a cross­walk with her hus­band, who later said they had waited for a walk sig­nal. Wit­nesses told po­lice the driver who hit the woman was us­ing her cell­phone.

Data show pedes­trian er­ror and al­co­hol are the top causes of pedes­tri­an­in­volved ac­ci­dents in Santa Fe, but there are other is­sues, in­clud­ing poorly lit in­ter­sec­tions, nar­row side­walks and un­marked street cross­ings.

“There are im­prove­ments we can make,” said Mark Tib­betts, who heads the Metropoli­tan Plan­ning Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has a master plan to im­prove pedes­trian safety.

But, Tib­betts said, “I wouldn’t say per­son­ally it’s un­safe [for pedes­tri­ans] in Santa Fe; it’s gen­er­ally pretty safe. That’s why we’re try­ing to en­cour­age more people to ride their bikes and walk.”

Data show other New Mex­ico com­mu­ni­ties have more pedes­trian-in­volved ac­ci­dents, and the state has reg­u­larly ranked among the worst in pedes­trian deaths.

Na­tion­wide, an es­ti­mated 6,000 pedes­tri­ans were killed in traf­fic ac­ci­dents in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.based non­profit Gover­nors High­way Safety As­so­ci­a­tion. That would be an 11 per­cent in­crease over the num­ber of crashes in 2015, when crashes in­creased by 9 per­cent over the pre­vi­ous year.

Re­searchers at­tribute the rise to many fac­tors; one that seems to be of par­tic­u­lar con­cern is cell­phone or other elec­tronic dis­trac­tion.

But Jes­sica Bloom, a data an­a­lyst with the Traf­fic Re­search Unit at The Univer­sity of New Mex­ico, said this state has a big­ger is­sue driv­ing its high rate of pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties.

“If New Mex­ico wants to get it­self out of the top ranks, we have to ad­dress the pedes­trian al­co­hol prob­lem,” Bloom said.

Pedes­trian er­ror

From 2001-15, the city of Santa Fe av­er­aged 2.2 pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties per year, ac­cord­ing to data from the Traf­fic Re­search Unit at The Univer­sity of New Mex­ico. Dur­ing that same pe­riod, Las Cruces and Rio Ran­cho each av­er­aged fewer than one pedes­trian fa­tal­ity per year.

Cer­ril­los Road, St. Fran­cis Drive, St. Michael’s Drive, Alameda Street and Air­port Road — in that or­der — had the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of pedes­tri­an­in­volved traf­fic in­ci­dents.

The data for many crashes didn’t show a sec­ondary street, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to iden­tify the near­est cross-street.

For crash en­tries that do in­clude a sec­ondary street, there ap­pear to be ar­eas with no­table pedes­trian crash ac­tiv­ity, such as the ar­eas around the in­ter­sec­tion of St. Michael’s Drive and Llano Street (10 crashes), Air­port Road and Ze­pol Road (nine), Cer­ril­los Road and Za­farano Drive (eight), Cer­ril­los and Richards Av­enue (seven) and Old Santa Fe Trail and Alameda (seven).

Of the pedes­trian-in­volved traf­fic ac­ci­dents in the city from 1995 to 2015, the most fre­quently cited pri­mary fac­tor in the UNM data was pedes­trian er­ror. Sec­ond, close be­hind, was al­co­hol in­volve­ment.

As it is statewide, most pedes­tri­ans who are struck and killed in Santa Fe are found to have been un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol.

For all of Santa Fe County, there was an av­er­age of 3.2 deaths in pedes­tri­an­in­volved ac­ci­dents per year from 19952015, ac­cord­ing to UNM data.

That ranks well be­low the less pop­u­lous coun­ties of McKin­ley and San Juan, which av­er­aged 7.9 and 7.6 deaths, re­spec­tively. Ber­nalillo County, the state’s most

pop­u­lous, led with 17.3 fa­tal­i­ties per year.

Through July, UNM’s Traf­fic Re­search Unit had doc­u­mented 38 pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties statewide this year, down from 43 at the same point a year ago. But 2016 was some­what out­side the norm, with 78 pedes­tri­ans killed by ve­hi­cles, the most in at least a decade.

It is dif­fi­cult to say why pedes­trian fa­tal­ity num­bers might fluc­tu­ate from year to year, ac­cord­ing to Bloom, who added there are nonethe­less cer­tain trends that re­main gen­er­ally sta­ble.

For one, pedes­trian er­ror is nor­mally the top fac­tor or among the top con­tribut­ing fac­tors in a crash.

The term is not strictly de­fined, but Bloom said pedes­trian er­ror is gen­er­ally taken to mean a pedes­trian stepped out in front of a vehicle and the driver did not have enough time to stop.

When al­co­hol is a fac­tor in a pedes­trian crash, it is over­whelm­ingly the pedes­trian who is in­tox­i­cated. From 2012-15, ac­cord­ing to UNM data, when al­co­hol was in­volved in a pedes­tri­an­ve­hi­cle col­li­sion, the pedes­trian was un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol more than 90 per­cent of the time.

New Mex­ico, in each year from 2011-15, had one of the five high­est per-capita rates of pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties in the U.S., a streak that reached its worst in 2014 when New Mex­ico ranked first, with 3.55 pedes­trian deaths per 100,000 res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Pos­si­ble fixes

Doug He­cox, a spokesman for the Federal High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said high-traf­fic road­ways do not nec­es­sar­ily see more pedes­trian ac­ci­dents.

Less-trav­eled roads, he said, are of­ten the most dan­ger­ous for pedes­tri­ans, whether be­cause those lightly trav­eled ar­eas might not have places for pedes­tri­ans

to walk or be­cause a pedes­trian or driver might not ex­pect to see the other.

“It’s ex­actly coun­ter­in­tu­itive,” He­cox said. “The ba­sic rule of thumb is that there isn’t an easy rule of thumb.”

The blue­print to the im­prove­ments in pedes­trian safety in Santa Fe is the Metropoli­tan Plan­ning Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Pedes­trian Master Plan, re­leased in 2015.

In the 98-page plan, 10 ar­eas of crit­i­cal con­cern are iden­ti­fied: Cer­ril­los, St. Fran­cis, St. Michael’s, Air­port, road­ways sur­round­ing the South Capi­tol area, a sec­tion of Agua Fría Street and North Guadalupe Street.

Th­ese high­lighted thor­ough­fares are where people move around, said Tib­bets of the Metropoli­tan Plan­ning Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The un­der­ly­ing idea of the master plan is to en­cour­age more non­mo­tor­ized ev­ery­day trips.

Each crit­i­cal-con­cern area — de­ter­mined through road­way anal­y­sis and with pub­lic in­put — has dis­tinct char­ac­ter­is­tics, but the master plan does note re­cur­ring prob­lems.

Some of the crit­i­cal-con­cern ar­eas are miss­ing side­walks; other side­walks are too nar­row or ob­structed by util­ity poles, which force a pedes­trian into the street. Some in­ter­sec­tions are poorly lit, and the cross­ings are un­marked. Other road­ways are par­tic­u­larly wide, and some are high-speed, high-traf­fic ar­eas.

Down­town Santa Fe is con­sid­ered walk­a­ble, the master plan says, but “for much of the city and ru­ral area, how­ever, the side­walk net­work is lim­ited by gaps, ob­struc­tions, pinch points, and side­walks in poor con­di­tion.”

Some of the re­port’s pos­si­ble fixes in the ar­eas of crit­i­cal con­cern — as well po­ten­tial im­prove­ments at 175 other lo­ca­tions — in­clude side­walk in­stal­la­tion, wider or buffered side­walks in ar­eas where pedes­tri­ans feel too close to high-speed traf­fic, im­proved mark­ings, sig­nage and light­ing at in­ter­sec­tions,

and mid-block cross­ings where there is high foot traf­fic.

While road­way or side­walk im­prove­ments wouldn’t hurt, District At­tor­ney Marco Serna said, the sub­stance abuse is­sue, pri­mar­ily al­co­hol abuse, is what must be ad­dressed if pedes­trian fa­tal­ity num­bers are to come down.

Serna said a forth­com­ing Santa Fe County be­hav­ioral health clinic could be a key part of the fix. A re­cent county gross re­ceipts tax in­crease will put mil­lions of dol­lars to­ward its op­er­a­tion; an­other gross re­ceipts tax hike, to be de­cided by vot­ers in a spe­cial elec­tion Tues­day, would mean even more money for the cen­ter.

“Be­hav­ioral health, sub­stance abuse, drug treat­ment — this fa­cil­ity will cover ev­ery­thing and we need more of it,” Serna said. “That’s not to say we’ll see a huge re­duc­tion in pedes­trian deaths im­me­di­ately. But I think even­tu­ally we’ll see a de­cline.”

Warn­ing signs

John Romero, the city’s engi­neer­ing di­vi­sion di­rec­tor, said the city ad­dresses pedes­trian is­sues as they come up, either through staff ob­ser­va­tion, tip or com­plaint.

On San­doval and Guadalupe streets, near where pedes­trian traf­fic might con­cen­trate around the First Ju­di­cial District Court com­plex or bars and restau­rants, the city not long ago added curb ex­ten­sions and pedes­trian refuges in me­di­ans, Romero said.

But “ev­ery lo­ca­tion has dif­fer­ent things that we can or can’t do,” Romero said. Where a street might not have space for a me­dian refuge, Romero said, an in­ter­sec­tion can be re­designed to make pedes­tri­ans more vis­i­ble to driv­ers, as was the case at the nexus of Gal­is­teo Street and Mon­tezuma Av­enue.

Not ev­ery pedes­trian dan­ger zone can be reme­died by sim­ply adding a cross­walk. An ad­di­tional cross­walk in a high­traf­fic area could en­cour­age ag­gres­sive driv­ing, Romero said.

One ex­am­ple: the sec­tion of Cer­ril­los Road be­tween Camino Car­los Rey and Siler Road.

Many home­less people con­gre­gate in the area. Pete’s Place, the shel­ter, is on the west side of the road. A bus stop sits al­most di­rectly across Cer­ril­los, not par­tic­u­larly near either Car­los Rey or Siler.

The city erected sign­posts there, in­struct­ing pedes­tri­ans to cross at the in­ter­sec­tion.

“We can’t put a sig­nal ev­ery 100 feet; it’s un­rea­son­able and just wouldn’t work,” Romero said, re­fer­ring to the pos­si­bil­ity driv­ers would then speed to beat the bunched-to­gether lights. “You may be try­ing to im­prove one thing but wors­en­ing an­other.”

The signs en­cour­ag­ing cross­ing at an in­ter­sec­tion are scat­tered about, with posts in front of the shel­ter, near the bus stop and closer to the in­ter­sec­tions. Some have been van­dal­ized with graf­fiti.

Not far from this spot on Cer­ril­los Road is the lo­ca­tion where Francisco Navarette was struck and killed.

‘One step at a time’

Hospi­tal staff told med­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tors Navarette (whose name was spelled “Naverette” in a city po­lice re­port) had a high blood-al­co­hol con­tent, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Santa Fe County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice. Navar­rette’s clothes were dark, with the ex­cep­tion of his white ten­nis shoes, and he was out­side the cross­walk in a dimly lit area.

“The crash would have been avoid­able had th­ese fac­tors not been present,” the re­port states.

Lu­cas Sena, the of­fi­cer who hit Navarette, was cited for driv­ing 12 miles an hour over the 40 mph speed limit, ac­cord­ing to on­line court records. The of­fi­cer pleaded no con­test, paid $80 in fees and was placed on un­su­per­vised pro­ba­tion for 90 days.

Sena re­signed in April to work for a po­lice de­part­ment in Ari­zona, where he has fam­ily, Santa Fe po­lice spokesman Greg Gu­rulé said.

He­cox, of the Federal High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said pedes­trian and driver be­hav­ior have to im­prove along­side en­hance­ments to make roads safer for pedes­tri­ans.

“Ul­ti­mately, road­way safety is a com­pli­cated prob­lem,” he said. “You can’t put all the bur­den on in­fra­struc­ture. A lot of it is the hu­man equa­tion — the per­son be­hind the wheel and in the cross­walk who need to look out for each other. And we seem to be see­ing a grow­ing num­ber of people who aren’t.”

Bloom of the Traf­fic Re­search Unit agreed in­fras­truc­tural changes alone won’t im­prove pedes­trian safety in New Mex­ico. “I just know the state has to work on mod­i­fy­ing the be­hav­iors of pedes­tri­ans, and that starts with al­co­hol,” she said.

Tib­betts said the Metropoli­tan Plan­ning Or­ga­ni­za­tion hopes to cre­ate and con­vene a pedes­trian ad­vo­cacy com­mit­tee to be­gin the process of eval­u­at­ing pos­si­ble im­prove­ments to the road­way ar­eas of crit­i­cal con­cern.

Once po­ten­tial im­prove­ments have been out­lined, Tib­betts said, the hunt for fund­ing would be­gin.

That “could be a process of many, many years,” he said. “It’s one step at a time.”

Ul­ti­mately, road­way safety is a com­pli­cated prob­lem. You can’t put all the bur­den on in­fra­struc­ture. A lot of it is the hu­man equa­tion — the per­son be­hind the wheel and in the cross­walk who need to look out for each other. And we seem to be see­ing a grow­ing num­ber of people who aren’t.” Doug He­cox, a spokesman for the Federal High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion


A pedes­trian crosses Cer­ril­los Road near Za­farano Drive ear­lier this year. Cer­ril­los Road has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of the city’s pedes­trian-in­volved traf­fic in­ci­dents, with 12 pedes­trian deaths be­tween 1995 and 2015.


A res­i­den­tial one-way por­tion of Gal­is­teo Street with no side­walk, ad­ja­cent to an in­ter­sec­tion with West Coronado Road near down­town. Ac­cord­ing to a city pedes­trian master plan, in much of the city, ‘the side­walk net­work is lim­ited by gaps,...

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