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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: November 3, 2003
Volume 39, Number 8


LaValley pushes pedestrian safety

Jonathan LaValley, Research Scientist, Health Sciences CenterEver wonder who helps determine the level of pedestrian safety in your neighborhood? In cities around New Mexico, one man, with teams of community volunteers, is doing just that.

For Jonathan LaValley, research scientist at the UNM Health Sciences Center, improving pedestrian safety is a mission that can mean life or death.

LaValley coordinates the New Mexico Pedestrian Safety Project, funded by the New Mexico Traffic Safety Bureau (TSB).

In 2002, 59 New Mexico pedestrians were killed and 407 were injured, according to the TSB’s Division of Government Research (DGR), based at UNM. DGR statistics show that pedestrian deaths and injuries have been trending downward since the last increase was recorded in 2001.

To keep numbers on the decrease, LaValley and his “walkable communities” groups have spent countless hours trying to improve safety and access for pedestrians. His job is to help identify and recruit communities in need of improved pedestrian access and safety. Local residents then use grant money to help make improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks and roads.

According to LaValley, it’s a big task to encourage change.

“We have unique communities in New Mexico with pedestrian safety problems that require unique solutions,” LaValley said. “The groups we set up would like to solve their concerns based on neighborhood involvement. This creates a sense of purpose and buy-in from the rest of their community.”

LaValley attended Tulane University and finished his biology and art history degrees at UNM. After working in the private sector, LaValley returned to UNM.

When not trying to solve pedestrian concerns around the state, he volunteers as coordinator for outdoor projects at the Rio Grande Nature Center. In addition to improving the center's ecology, LaValley and others focus on restoring areas of the Rio Grande bosque lost during fires that scorched hundreds of acres.

The work he does there parallels his efforts in pedestrian safety, he says.

“In both areas, you have to get people interested and involved for things to change,” LaValley said. “It’s all a part of behavior modification – making people aware that they can make a difference in improving our communities.”