Despite recent death, Fort Collins bucking statewide trend of rising pedestrian fatalities

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Fort Collins’ most recent pedestrian fatality mirrored circumstances seen across a surge in pedestrian deaths in Colorado in recent years.

A 40-year-old man was fatally struck by a pickup truck while crossing College Avenue just south of Prospect Road about 7:40 p.m. Jan. 15. Police have said the man was not using a crosswalk when he ran into the road and that the driver of the truck had a green light.

The number of pedestrians killed annually on Colorado’s roadways has risen 89% between 2009 and 2018, far greater than the national increase of 55% during that same time, according to analysis by AAA Colorado.

In 2009 and 2010, there were 47 and 36 pedestrian deaths, respectively, across Colorado. In 2017 and 2018, the numbers were 92 and 89.

The national surge can be traced to several factors, including conditions similar to Fort Collins’ recent pedestrian fatality. Virtually all of the increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities since 2016 involved crashes after dark — with crashes that happened in the early evening on weekdays accounting for more than half of the increase — while 90% occurred outside of crosswalks and on urban arterial roads such as College Avenue.

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Fort Collins has been able to buck the state and national trend of increased fatalities, with crashes and serious crashes involving pedestrians generally trending down, according to data from city interim traffic engineer Nicole Hahn.

In 2010, the city had 58 crashes involving pedestrians, including 39 that resulted in serious injury or death. In 2019, there were 49 crashes involving pedestrians, 21 of which were serious or fatal.

According to the Larimer County Coroner, five pedestrians were fatally struck countywide in 2019, the most since six in each 2017 and 2016. Last year’s numbers will be finalized in March.

“It’s always heartbreaking to see crashes that were preventable, ” Hahn said. “As a traffic engineering professional, protecting the public is why many of us do this work.”

Hahn said in Fort Collins, pedestrian crashes account for only about 1% of all crashes but make up more than 8% of severe crashes. She said 87% of crashes involve some level of injury and about 46% are severe crashes, which may result in death.

Fort Collins crashes involving a pedestrian.

Fort Collins pedestrian safety solutions in action

Hahn said the city is using a variety of strategies to minimize pedestrian crashes.

As part of its Low Stress Network, the city is installing a number of signalized crossings of arterial roadways at several locations. This year, the city completed such a crossing at Elizabeth and Ponderosa streets, an area where many Colorado State University students live and walk or cycle to campus. Other areas expected to see improvements this year include Lemay Avenue and Columbia Road, Drake and Hampshire roads and Magnolia and Shields streets.

The city also has several grade-separated crossing projects in design, including an underpass where the Power Trail intersects with Harmony Road

The city has completed two critical arterial sidewalk gaps along main arterial roads, widening sidewalks on Drake east of College Avenue and Prospect Road east of College.

Fort Collins’ traffic signal operations team has enhanced safety at a handful of intersections through pedestrian-activated protected left turn phasing. This allows a pedestrian to activate a push button that then changes the yellow flashing arrow to red, creating greater left turn safety.

Traffic signals have also been changed to give pedestrians a few seconds of a head start when entering an intersection with a corresponding green signal in the same direction of travel. This enhances the visibility of pedestrians entering the intersection.

The city has a Vision Zero plan to eliminate pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries by examining and planning safety factors including roadway design, speeds, enforcement, behaviors, education and policies.

The city also is working to better protect school students trough its Safe Routes to School Program.

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Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at milesblumhardt@coloradoan.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.