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Solving Phoenix's deadly pedestrian problem

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- Is it safe to walk across Valley streets? Statistics paint a bleak picture, with 2018 outpacing 2017 when it comes to pedestrian fatalities, with more than 50 people having been killed on Phoenix streets so far in 2018.

21-year-old Taylor White was one of them. The Grand Canyon University student was jogging in April when the deadly crash happened.

"One of the things that we've heard is that this happens all too often on the streets of Phoenix," said White's mother, Angela White. "Why? Why does this happen so often here?".

The problem seems to be only getting worse. Nationwide, fatal pedestrian crashes are up 46% since a low point in 2009. In addition, Arizona has been named the deadliest for pedestrians, in relation to population.

"Sharing crowded roads is becoming more hazardous to pedestrians," said David Harkey, President of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). "The institute undertook this study to be able to understand the circumstances surrounding these crashes, and try to understand what we can do to prevent these types of crashes in the future."

The IIHS studied the spike in crashes, and chalks it up to a number of factors that includes speeding enforcement, the increase in SUVs and trucks on the roads, and lack of proper lighting, both on city streets and in front of cars.

"Most of these crashes are occurring on the busiest roadways, in urban and suburban areas," said Harkey. "They're also occurring away from intersections, generally at mid-block locations, and they are occurring under dark conditions."

So if those are some of hte problems, what are the solutions? Drivers may have seen them around Phoenix, as more than 40 HAWK (High Intensity Activated CrossWalK) beacon signal systems have been installed around the city. Locally and around the country, these HAWK signals have been effective. Pedestrians hit a button activating a yellow and then eventually a red light, allowing them to cross. Meanwhile, drivers are stopped for a short time.

Carl Langford with City of Phoenix Traffic Operations says it's more effective than waiting for a scheduled stop light.

"It's blank the rest of the time. When someone comes up and pushes it, it allows traffic to move more freely and doesn't stop traffic as long as a signal would," said Langford.

There are 11 of these signals under construction around the city. Officials with Olive Grove Assisted Living Facility say say residents wouldn't be able to cross Indian School Road without it.

"They wouldn't be able to cross the street safely," said a woman who works at the facility, identified only as "Erica". "There'd be a lot of incidents accidents of our residents being caught in the shuffle of traffic with their wheelchairs, trying to cross a busy street."

The system, however, can't be put just anywhere, as it costs around $100,000.

"We look at several different criterias," said Langford. "We look at how many pedestrians are crossing, how much traffic, how close it is to an existing signal."

While they're certainly not a fix-all, they're at least a proactive approach. Since 2007, there's never been an accident at a HAWK crosswalk while the beacon has been activated.

Beyond the HAWK system, however, implementing other safety guidelines has been a struggle in Phoenix. Implementing changes under the "Complete Streets" ordinance has proven difficult, with a majority of the Complete Streets Advisory Board resigning in late May.

HAWK Pedestrian Beacon Information by the City of Phoenix