In the last week of July, Kyle Wolfe received a ticket from the Denver Police Department after being hit by an SUV while trying to cross the street in his wheelchair. The incident occurred months after Denver released a new action plan, called Vision Zero, designed to eliminate traffic deaths and reduce injuries caused by the transportation system.
Wolfe was crossing the street in downtown Denver when some items he was carrying fell off his lap. He says that stopping to pick them up delayed his crossing and he wasn’t able to get out of the street before the light turned. He was then hit by the SUV, which left him bruised and damaged his wheelchair.
The Denver PD cited Wolfe for “Disobeying a Traffic Control Device.” The driver of the SUV was not cited. In an email response to questions, the Denver PD claimed that “The investigation revealed that Wolfe was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk in a designated bicycle lane and against the crossing signal.”
The light at the crosswalk where Wolfe was struck gives pedestrians 20 seconds to cross the intersection, which follows federal regulations that take into account the average person traveling 3.5 feet per second. The ADA doesn’t directly address timing at crosswalks as a required adaptation for people with disabilities, only requiring curb cuts at the end of sidewalks.
The incident is exactly the kind that Vision Zero is intended to eliminate. In response to increasing numbers of traffic deaths and injuries, more than 20 cities across the U.S. have adopted the Vision Zero principles, which include the idea that human error is inevitable, so transportation systems should be forgiving and safety work should focus on system level changes above influencing human behavior.
As part of the plan, the city will be extending time limits for street crossings, creating more landings to breakup longer cross walks and create refuge for pedestrians, and reducing speed limits to slow traffic flow in high-risk areas.
“Denver’s Vision Zero Action Plan has clear tactics and measures aimed at eliminating traffic deaths and injuries. We are actively and continuously working with subject matter experts to ensure our plan achieves these goals for our disabled community,” says Allison Redmon, marketing and communications spokesperson for the City of Denver Transportation and Mobility Department.
The Denver PD has signed onto the action plan, but according to the Denver Streets Blog, the incident with Wolfe was in direct contradiction to the Vision Zero principles.
“The problem is not Wolfe, the problem is a crossing phase that’s too short and should be lengthened,” said David Sach in a post on the subject. “Mayor Michael Hancock might want to remind Denver Police Chief Robert White that he signed up to prioritize the most vulnerable people on the street when he committed his department to Vision Zero — not penalize them.”