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Blame the environment

ASHLAND ' Though most people would fault either the driver or pedestrian in an accident like the Nov. 26 event on Table Rock Road that sent an Eagle Point man to the hospital with broken legs, a Southern Oregon University psychology professor suggests that neither may be to blame.

The fault may lie in the environment, she says.

A psychological phenomenon ' fundamental attribution error ' results in people blaming the victim or the person who hit them rather than blaming the environment that may have created the situation, said Karen Salley.

A social and environmental psychologist, Salley became interested in pedestrian-vehicle accidents after an 80-year-old neighbor struck a pedestrian at night while driving near the Ashland Street railroad overpass.

Everybody wanted to blame the old man, said Salley. Trees interfered with lighting at the accident site. Witnesses reported that the victim was not being careful, she said.

Salley and Professor Paul Rowland say that environment, perception and social setting all play into situations that lead to such accidents.

Depth perception decreases at night for both drivers and pedestrians, as does peripheral vision, said Rowland, who specializes in perceptual psychology. Light, or a lack of it, also affects vision.

Age also is a factor. Because a human eye's lens thickens with age, a 60-year-old only takes in one-third of the available light that a 20-year-old would see.

We adapt to this, so we don't think it's a problem because it's so gradual, said Rowland.

Ability to see movement ' dynamic visual acuity ' also decreases with age. Standard vision tests that incorporate static targets, like those required for driver's license exams, don't reveal the problem. A car's movement affects visual acuity for the driver, and a pedestrian's perception is a little less accurate with moving vehicles.

Larger moving objects may appear to move slower, according to research Salley has seen. This may be a factor in accidents at railroad crossings. Salley thinks this concept may extend to sport-utility vehicles.

It's more due to familiarity of the cues that make you over-estimate, said Salley. Our own brain was playing a trick on us.

Perception may mislead, but it also offers the chance to avoid accidents.

Because I ride a bike, I'm always aware of what a driver may be seeing or not seeing, said Rowland. Cyclists look for eye contact. If (they) don't get it, they start waving (at drivers).

Salley says pedestrians also ought to make eye contact with drivers and have a defensive walking mindset.

Varying customs and expectations affect how drivers and walkers behave.

If you are in an area where cars are driving at a speed different than what you are used to, you may misjudge, said Salley. People pulled her back when she stepped off a curb in Costa Rica. She then realized the drivers were going much faster than in Ashland.

Crosswalk stings ' like the one conducted at Grape and 10th streets in Medford on Wednesday ' help by setting standards, said Rowland. A decision to enforce affects the cultural expectations, he said.

Blinding sunlight as well as darkness are among environmental factors that come into play while driving and walking. Glare on windshields, eyeglasses, precipitation and frost can limit a driver's vision.

You look at the whole picture when deciding whether to issue citations for an accident, said Medford police Lt. Mike Moran. Certainly you take (environmental factors) into consideration.

In the initial police report for the Table Rock Road incident, police cited darkness on the unlit road as a factor. The victim, 23-year-old Abraham Daniel Chapman of Eagle Point, apparently was with three others who chose to wait while he crossed the busy street near Midway Road.

Police determined that the driver, 31-year-old Troy David Guches of Central Point, was not speeding. A final decision on whether to cite Guches has not been made. The district attorney's office is reviewing the case.

Making streets safe to cross

Rogue Valley cities are trying a variety of things to make local roads safer for pedestrians to cross.

Ashland's recent overhaul of the five-lane Ashland Street (Highway 66) incorporates bolder, zebra-striped crosswalks. At one crossing, signs tell motorists to Stop Here For Pedestrians. The work also created pedestrian islands in portions of a center turn lane that stretches from Siskiyou Boulevard to the railroad overpass. Ashland continues to wrestle with solutions for the downtown area, where pedestrians and autos are frequently at odds.

Pedestrian friendly streetlights are popping up in the first developments of Medford's southeast plan area. The lamps are installed at 30-foot intervals at a height of 12 feet. Regular streetlamps are 200 feet apart and 80 feet up, where trees may interfere with light distribution. Similar lights have been installed downtown.

Although it may seem to increase the danger for pedestrians, Medford has stopped repainting the twin stripes at hundreds of pedestrian crossings. Instead, the city will repaint a half-line at intersections ' so-called stop bars.

Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said national studies show that crosswalks don't keep pedestrians safe from inattentive drivers, and they may even give pedestrians a false sense of security. Intersections with signals and school crosswalks in Medford will be restriped. Others may be maintained, depending on the need.

Central Point, Gold Hill and Jacksonville received &

36;356,960 in Oregon Department of Transportation grants for new sidewalks and other street improvements during November. School children will benefit from the new sidewalks.

Some drivers never learn Medford police ticketed 27 drivers who failed to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk at Grape and 10th streets Wednesday.

It was part of another a pedestrian-enforcement operation with a police department employee pacing the crosswalk at the busy intersection between 11 a.m. and — p.m.

Two drivers also were cited for overtaking a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian. Police cited two people for driving with a suspended license and six people for driving uninsured. Police also issued six citations for other violations not related to crosswalks and towed four vehicles, police Lt. Mike Moran said.

Police have done crosswalk stings throughout the year to help educate drivers about pedestrian right of way. Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks at intersections, whether they are marked or not.

Though it is legal to jaywalk in Oregon, pedestrians do not have the right of way when crossing a street mid-block outside of a marked crosswalk.

Moran said traffic officers will review the results of this year's stings and plan more enforcement operations for next year.

Pedestrians llike this woman crossing Main Street at Riverside Avenue often seem out of place. Two researchers at Southern Oregon University say environmental factors play a role in pedestrian accidents Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell