New $10 million center at UNM will address pedestrian safety

Smith Plaza. Photo courtesy UNM.

By Kyle Smith

People die after getting hit by cars more often in New Mexico than nearly anywhere else in the country. This extraordinarily high rate of pedestrian fatalities is one reason UNM has been selected as the site of a new $10 million center to promote safety.

The Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety will be funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Civil engineering professor Nicholas Ferenchak will lead the center.

Ferenchak heads the Transportation Virtual Reality Lab at UNM and said the new center will use VR tools to examine transportation patterns, according to a UNM News story.

For example, initial research showed that serious injuries and deaths dropped 60% during the first year of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit system, but Ferenchak wants to learn exactly why and how so the success might be repeated.

Information from the Center may be used to enact new rules on campus or new traffic laws.

But laws can only do so much, UNM police officer Eric Psyzko said.

One of UNM’s busiest crosswalks

For example, adding more signs or crosswalks “is only going to keep the honest people honest,” Psyzko said. People who don’t feel like stopping for a crosswalk are going to do it anyway, he said. 

Focusing on pedestrians is one way to help but it can only go so far. Police officers say they try to help with education and assistance.

“If we see anyone walking on the side of the road, we stop and make contact with them and we’re basically offering them a ride to where they intend to go,” State Troopers Erik Galindo said of rural roadways.

Highway in New Mexico offers little room for pedestrians. Photo by USA Parks.

Issuing tickets generally doesn’t work for pedestrians. “When we stop them, we try not to issue a citation, but instead inform them to stay away from the paved part of the road,” he said.

Being genuine and showing you care about one’s safety carries more of an impact than enforcing a law, especially when it comes to someone whose only way of transportation is to walk. 

The Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety is one of 34 programs awarded money by the federal government.

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