Samantha Nolan knew traffic was getting bad in her longtime neighborhood on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., but it wasn't until she saw two pedestrians hit by speeding cars that she launched a fierce lobbying campaign to educate and empower pedestrians in her community.
"I can still picture those two accidents," she said, recalling the nightmarish vision of airborne pedestrians just moments after they were struck. Although she witnessed the accidents years ago, "that vision doesn't ever leave your mind."
Now, thanks to Nolan (who jokes that she has seven jobs "and they're all volunteer"), two of the most dangerous intersections on her neighborhood's stretch of the six-lane wide Connecticut Avenue—a major throughway between Washington and neighboring Montgomery County, Md.—are now equipped with spiky metal trees of bright orange pedestrian safety flags. The flags (which are donned with reflective images of stop signs) were once the butt of jokes, but are now used by scores of people every day to confidently cross pedestrian crosswalks that do not have traffic lights.
For Charlotte Peltz, the moment she knew she had to get involved in pedestrian safety volunteering was when she learned that, according to the Federal Highway Administration, a pedestrian is killed or injured every seven minutes.
"When I put all the statistics together, it was as if an airplane of 190 people went down every two weeks," the Hawaii resident and AARP volunteer recalled of her shock. "We would be up in arms if that happened in this country."
Working alongside her husband Harvey, an AARP regional driver safety coordinator, Charlotte's efforts culminated in a statewide audit by 250 volunteers of the 50 most dangerous intersections in Hawaii, and landmark legislative success: the passage of SB 1192, which appropriated $3 million for statewide pedestrian safety improvements and a 2007 pedestrian safety awareness program.
With more pedestrian fatalities per capita in its 65 and over population than any other state, Hawaii is a dangerous place to cross the street. And, despite images of gently swaying palms and pristine beaches, busy roadways—often one-way and four, five or even six-lanes wide—are a trademark of its capital city of Honolulu.
Gone are the days when people could quickly jaunt across a two-lane road, recollected Peltz, 80, of her childhood in Maryland. "You had two lanes, one going in each direction," she said. "You could run across the street. A one-way street that's five or six lanes wide, you can't make it—anybody, young or old."