According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New Mexico ranks last in pedestrian safety—with a 3.96% pedestrian fatality rate. Andrew Wray, with the Mesilla Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, presented to the Las Cruces City Council on ways to improve both bicycle and pedestrian safety.
“The state of New Mexico is the worst state in the nation by pedestrian death rate,” Wray said. “In 2019, which is the most recent year for which we have data, there were ten non-motorized fatalities within the Mesilla Valley MPO area, which includes the city of Las Cruces, the town of Mesilla and most of central Doña Ana County.”
Wray reported on areas in need of focus—including the intersection of Lohman and Walton, where three non-motorized crashes occurred between 2015-2018. Councilor Gabe Vasquez commented on the increased activity of the intersection, highlighting the location between popular businesses and the heavy traffic.
“The most heartbreaking is you see a mom with a stroller rushing down the intersection from, McDonalds to Walmart, or something like that, trying to make sure she catches the end of that street while various vehicles are inattentive or not paying attention,” Vasquez said. “It's not a very dignified way to cross the street, because it's so long, and I don't feel like there's enough pedestrian protection features here.”
Vasquez says that while education efforts can be helpful, they are not enough to protect those using the Lohman-Walton intersection.
“For this particular intersection, I don't think education is good enough,” Vasquez said. “I’ll say I don't think we're going to get very far with continued education efforts. I'm not sure that that’s going to reduce the pedestrian conflicts here.”
Wray presented pedestrian-friendly solutions to help decrease risk—including the addition of pedestrian refuges, which would give those crossing the street a stopping point in the middle of the crosswalk.
“The idea here is to reduce the amount of distance that a pedestrian has to cover before they reach a spot of safety or increased safety within the intersection,” Wray said. “This is done by the construction of a curbed facility within the median of the road to give pedestrians an opportunity to stop, have a rest, if the light has already changed then they can wait there for the next light.”
Other safety ideas included curb extensions and raised crosswalks as well as better city-wide education efforts. Councilor Kasandra Gandara called for more education surrounding the number of pedestrian fatalities in the state.
“I’m thinking of a really robust campaign that gets implemented and that we saturate our radio stations and our TV stations,” Gandara said. “And not that I want to shame people, that's not what this is about, I just feel like we need to have a more active campaign.”
She also called for a full city-wide assessment, in order to identify problem areas within Las Cruces.
“I'd really like to see an assessment be more proactive, identifying those spots where we may not be meeting,” Gandara said. “And just coming up with what the timeframes are, what the budget might be for these particular items to be implemented.”
One city effort already underway is pop-up bike lanes, designed to get more community members outside safely. The lanes will be located on Nevada Avenue and Idaho Avenue/S. Walnut Street through July.