July 26, 2023 | Enzo Signore
In 2022, more than 7,500 people were struck and killed by vehicles in America- the highest it’s been since 1981. From 2010 to 2021, pedestrian deaths increased from 4,302 to 7,624, a 77 percent rise. This is alarming considering that America has one of the lowest walking rates in the world, yet more Americans die per mile walked than just about anywhere else – around six times more than the UK, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The number of miles walked by Americans continues to fall, while the death rate has largely increased.
Whether you are out for an evening walk, or going across the street to grab a cup of coffee, walking does not warrant being part of such a steep statistic. The devastating wave of pedestrian fatalities needs to be addressed urgently from a systemic perspective, and LiDAR technology can aid in heavily reducing these numbers. While converting American roads from car-centric to pedestrian-centric would be extremely expensive, and perhaps unrealistic, LiDAR technology can provide a solution that works without heavily disturbing the existing infrastructure.
Stationary LiDAR sensors installed at crossways can monitor and detect anonymous traffic data including identifying and counting pedestrians jaywalking, measuring vehicle traffic volume, and speeding vehicles. A detailed understanding of road dynamics can help reform transportation policies such as longer walk signal times and reduced speed limits in intersections that are accident-prone. It can also be used in real-time to extend a crosswalk signal time when a sensor detects that a pedestrian is crossing while the traffic signal is about to change.
The technology can also be used by urban planners to identify potentially dangerous areas for pedestrians such as poorly lit or low visibility areas. This can help efficiently allocate the transportation budget towards areas that need it the most for better sidewalks, improved street lighting, and adequate pedestrian crossings.
The application of LiDAR sensors goes beyond the safety of pedestrians on sidewalks. In the US, Railroad deaths totaled 893 in 2021, a 20% increase from the 2020 total of 744 and the highest since 2007. These deaths are avoidable with the implementation of smart railways crossings and train platforms. Sensors can continuously monitor areas around trains for pedestrians, cyclists, or vehicles that are dangerously close to the tracks. At any time if a vehicle or a pedestrian is on the crossing or too close to the platform, the sensors can alert the train operator to take quick action and avoid imminent danger.
Currently, cameras are used as a way to track and fine people who cross railway tracks while a train is close or if they are running a red light. There are several problems with this. First, camera accuracy is heavily reduced when it’s dark or during rain, snow, fog, or storms – so if the weather conditions are not perfect, tracking will be inaccurate. The range of most cameras is limited to 45m which is not nearly enough when protecting large areas.
When cameras are accurate, they come attached with a PII risk. Cameras also put the onus of responsibility on people who are often distracted or speeding and are unlikely to be threatened by the prospect of a fine. Fines are also not applicable to any mode of transport that does not have a license plate. Last, and most importantly, cameras are a reactive approach – they can help with identification and enforcement of fines, but not with prevention.
LiDAR sensors, on the other hand, are equipped to work in any weather condition, day or night with zero PII risk. Above anything else, implementing LiDAR sensing solutions ensures that cities and transit get ahead of pedestrian safety problems instead of waiting for incidents to happen. Several major cities have already implemented LiDAR solutions. Cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas are using the technology to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety in busy areas. Cities in Florida are using these sensors to prevent drawbridge accidents. In order to make a difference at a national level in accident prevention, local, state, and federal transportation departments need to see beyond short term solutions and make our cities safer. The time to make radical changes is now.
With robust data privacy measures in place, LiDAR technology is a clear, streamlined solution to act on this urgent crisis of preventable, increasing pedestrian fatalities.