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The plight of pedestrians in parking lots

parking lot.jpg
Parking lot outside Leisure World was backdrop for consciousness-raising. (Thomson)

As Montgomery County looked over its accident stats, County Executive Isiah Leggett said this morning, it discovered that more than a fifth of pedestrian accidents are happening in parking lots. The county knows the numbers for the past three and a half years (324 pedestrian collisions in parking lots), and it knows that seniors and young adults are disproportionately involved, but it doesn't yet know why parking lots are so dangerous.

Leggett thinks drivers have a different mind-set when they come off the street and enter a parking lot. Pedestrians, too, are presuming a level of personal safety that is not realistic, he said.

Residents of Leisure World who were out doing their shopping said they understand the risks.

Helenlouise C. Pettis, 77, said she was hit by backing up in a parking lot, and she wound up spending three months in a nursing home while she recovered. The incident occurred near the White Flint Mall, she said, but she was doing something she learned in Florida: Walking in the middle of the parking lane, so that drivers could see her.

Didn't help. She heard a noise, felt an impact and went flying through the air. She's extremely cautious walking around lots now. Her safety tips: Use a crosswalk if one is available and always make eye contact with the driver to make sure you've been seen.

A man sitting nearby while he waited for a shuttle bus back to Leisure World said he is legally blind and always wears a bright safety vest to be visible to drivers.

Their collective take: Drivers won't yield to pedestrians in a parking lot. They don't turn their heads in all directions when they are backing up. They do everything too fast. Pedestrians zone out. They also aren't spending enough time looking around.

Leggett said he held the press conference to get people to be more cautious in these environments. (The lot outside Leisure World has no particular problems. In fact, I saw plenty of crosswalks and cautionary signs. But seniors need to be particularly careful.)

Here are some of the county's safety suggestions.

-- Always stay alert for vehicles.
-- Don't assume drivers see you.
-- Watch for vehicles pulling out of parking spaces.
-- Don't walk behind a vehicle that is backing out.
-- Be cautious and look around before walking out between parked vehicles.
-- Treat the parking lot as you would a road -- be aware and constantly look for moving vehicles.

-- Always stay alert for pedestrians.
-- Don't assume pedestrians see you.
-- Be especially cautious backing out of a space when parked next to taller vehicles that obstruct your view.
-- Parking lots are not speedways -- slow down!
-- Never cut across parking space lanes.
-- Treat the parking lot as you would a road -- be aware and constantly look out for pedestrians.

That's a good list, and overlaps with what the Leisure World residents were telling me. What would you add?

By Robert Thomson  |  October 29, 2009; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  Safety  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, pedestrian safety  
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I would add that parking lots need to be redesigned. It's ridiculous that they are designed with near single-minded attention to how vehicles move, while largely ignoring how people will move safely between their car and their destination.

Certainly, almost all parking lots have cross walks, but they usually only connect the entrance of a store to the parking lot. This still leaves pedestrians to cross the parking lot itself with no protection at all.

Posted by: nevermindtheend | October 29, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

There are major pedestrian problems at almost every strip-mall grocery store or Home Depot: Any sidewalk in front of the store is completely crammed with merchandise for sale and shopping carts, making it impossible to walk on the sidewalk itself. But the area between the sidewalk and parking is no picnic either - cars double parked, other cars zooming in and out of them, etc.

In suburban DC I can think of a few exceptions, where it is possible to walk in and out of a grocery store via a clear sidewalk and without traversing a multi-acre parking lot. But these are the exception, not the rule.

Posted by: Virginiadude1 | October 29, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see parking lots segregate SUVs and truck from cars, so that drivers can see when backing out. The driver of a car sandwiched between two SUVs or trucks has to back out blind, which is a danger to everyone around him.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 29, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Those are NOT pedestrians. Just drivers running over other drivers. Cry me a river!

Real pedestrians do not drive cars.

Posted by: v2008 | October 29, 2009 7:25 PM | Report abuse

I've had a few near hits in parking lots, when I'm trying to back out and even though I'm watching for people and checking all my mirrors, maybe I've got my eye on two people near me, and they're almost clear, but then one of them starts crossing at a funny angle. Driving a short car with tall trucks on either side of me doesn't help. Also, parents who aren't holding the hands of their small children. One second the kid is right next to their parent, and a second later s/he's 5 feet away and I don't see them because they're short!

Posted by: anoel | October 30, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how many of these accidents are caused by lazy drivers competing for the absolute closest spot in the lot, Obama forbid that they'd have to spend upwards of ten seconds extra walking.

Posted by: member5 | October 30, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

My biggest pet peeve is when drivers fail to use their turn signals (in parking lots and on the streets, but it seems more prevalent in parking lots). Making a pedestrian aware of how you plan to move your car would solve a lot of these problems.

I really wish parking lots were designed with "sidewalks" or "pedestrian paths" down the center of each row (so that you have a parking space, a pedestrian lane, and then another parking space). This would give pedestrians a safe place to walk without having to worry about backing up cars. Other safety features are single direction travel lanes and angled parking spaces. Not sure how feasible all of these are though, as they all require more space.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | November 2, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

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