March 20, 2014

Welcome, NAIOP Readers!

Photo of Wintergreen Plaza in Rockville, Md.,
by Mark Wright, courtesy of NAIOP.
Thanks to NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, for the opportunity to spotlight the vehicle-into-building crash problem in the spring issue of Development Magazine.

The article by Rob Reiter and me went live online March 20, plus will be in the print edition sent to NAIOP members: How Safe Is Your Parking Lot?

As risk control expert David Natalizia said in the article, “This is an important issue that may have been beneath the radar because of the difficulty in understanding its magnitude and scope.”

And parking design consultant Warren Vander Helm observed, “There is no reason why a design for an average parking area has to include nose-in parking,” which is one of the primary contributing factors in storefront crashes.

March 13, 2014

SXSW Tragedy Spotlighted in The Atlantic Cities

Image via The Atlantic Cities, posted to Twitter by @ColinKerrigan
Thanks to Rob Reiter's fast action and Sarah Goodyear's fast writing, the murderous results of a driver who drove through a crowd of people at the SXSW music festival early this morning in Austin, Texas, are getting the attention they deserve with a focus on the need for pedestrian protection. Here's Sarah's article today in The Atlantic Cities: We're Shamefully Bad at Protecting Pedestrians at Events Like SXSW. Kudos to Rob and Sarah for highlighting the problem.

March 6, 2014

Change Coming Soon

At the end of June, this site will officially become an archive rather than a blog. I'll also simultaneously hand over my admin keys to the Storefront Safety Council LinkedIn group and the Council's website, coordinating with co-founder Rob Reiter on the details as I transition out.

While my concern about vehicle-into-building crashes remains strong, I've hit a point in life where I need to make some changes — including wrapping up the StorefrontCrashes.com project and taking off my Council co-founder hat.

I have truly cherished your attention and feedback since I launched this blog after my own accident recovery several years ago. Knowing that the information here has aided attorneys representing crash victims and provided some businesses with tips on how to protect their storefront from vehicle collisions has also been rewarding.

Likewise, I've been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to team up with Rob Reiter in launching the Storefront Safety Council LinkedIn group (he has near-singlehandedly sustained it with regular postings) and in collaborating on articles for industry publications.

Speaking of articles, we have one coming out in NAIOP's Development Magazine on March 17, which I'll cover in a new post here on that date. Rob also appears to have the editor of an insurance industry magazine interested in an article from us, due in May, so I will post about that as well down the road.

Why did I pick the end of June for my official wrap-up date? Because I turn 57 then (God willing). I was 51 when I got hit. One of the biggest lessons that experience taught me: we're never guaranteed another birthday, so make the most of the time we're given.

Every year, many lives end, or are profoundly changed, because of the flaws in our built environment that leave people exposed to errant drivers and moving vehicles. I'm not giving up on searching for prevention and protection strategies. But I am changing my approach.

Thanks again for your continued interest.

—Mark

February 24, 2014

Data Gives Insights into Crash Problem

Part I: When risk control pro David Natalizia surveyed colleagues via his blog to assess their perceptions about vehicle-into-building crashes, he got responses from 20 readers — and made some interesting discoveries:
  • First off, 90 percent of the respondents had a pretty high level of awareness that these accidents happen frequently — and 75 percent recognized that the magnitude of the problem would not be picked up by NHTSA data.
  • They held a strong impression about who’s typically not at the wheel during these crashes, with 85 percent indicating that most such crashes do not involve teen drivers.
  • Respondents showed less consensus about the statement, ‘Positioning parking spaces perpendicular to a building may increase risks,’ with 65 percent agreeing, 20 percent neutral, and 15 percent disagreeing.
  • Awareness about the ineffectiveness of wheel stops and curbs as crash barriers appeared to be high, with only 10 percent agreeing with the statement that ‘Wheel stops and curbs effectively prevent vehicles from crashing forward into buildings.’
  • There was significant disagreement around the survey question that stated, ‘No standard practices exist for controlling this hazard,’ with 70 percent disagreeing, 20 percent agreeing, and 10 percent neutral.
I’ll be asking David to weigh in with his interpretation of those findings, but for now let me simply say ‘Thanks!’ to him here for posting the survey on his blog and being willing to engage his readers on this issue. Risk control professionals have a huge role to play in moving the vehicle-into-building crash conversation forward with other key audiences.

Part II: Another set of interesting numbers came out this morning in the form of charts from Rob Reiter, showing several findings based on his stats from 2013. A couple of them surprised me, but for now I’ll leave you with Rob’s work:

Source: Rob Reiter


Source: Rob Reiter


Source: Rob Reiter

If you prefer pie charts, you'll find 'em here.


February 12, 2014

The Culture of Storefront Crashes: A Commentary on Corporate Decisions to Install Barriers

Charles G. Oakes, PhD
GUEST POST — By Charles G. Oakes, PhD, Blue Ember Technologies, LLC

I first met Mark Wright by phone several years ago when he called our Sykesville, Md., office to learn more of our selection of bollards and their use as barriers to protect storefronts from errant drivers. In the months following, I’ve read with interest Mark’s and more recently Rob Reiter’s explanations for the crashes, such as head-on perpendicular parking, bumper curbs, older drivers inclined to pedal error, and, of course, the absence of bollards or other barriers.

This commentary looks at storefront crashes from the perspective of “culture,” referring to the numerous factors interacting over time to explain how and why crashes occur, who is involved at different points in the life cycle of a crash, and what the outcomes are. (The more technically-trained reader will recognize the similarity between culture and “systems analysis.”) Although there are many cultures, they have one thing in common: they change slowly, and for this reason an understanding of them has value for marketing plan development.

Heading the list of factors in our culture is a predisposing condition—the public image of the convenience store business and those who use it: Convenience stores attract and serve hurried and rushed customers who seek the most convenient place to park, enter quickly, choose one or two items, make payment, and rush back to their cars. The convenience store—its building and site design, and its stated purpose—is a magnet for people not given to thoughtful deliberate behavior. They’re impatient, rushed, inviting a crash to happen!

Convenience store industry leaders tell us the “convenience image” is about to change—to a more classy architectural design on the outside; to a more community-gathering environment catering to leisurely fellowship on the inside. Perhaps industry leaders will also include recommendations to add protective barriers and a more secure horizontal parking design. Architects for the industry I’ve interviewed have not confirmed this.

Then there are the after-accident personages and activities of the crash culture:
  • First responders and the instant press, with cameras rolling. Crashes are quickly reported on television, in the local press, and make their way to the Internet. Once on the Internet, a meme emerges. This is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas and symbols. This website testifies to the existence of the meme. The meme of storefront crashes demonstrates a mixed impact on other audiences within the culture.
  • Personal injury attorneys have their eyes on this relatively new cash cow. As case law based on premises negligence (e.g., defined as absence of bollards) increases in favor of awards to injured parties, at the expense of the defendants, the industry might seek remedies through more site protection.
  • Response of the insurance industry has been negligible, simply because premiums are spread over 150 thousand convenience stores, and the number of annual crashes is small by comparison.
  • Corporate owners of convenience stores sometimes deny even having a storefront crash problem. This is partially explained by the failure to see loss in terms of the security industry’s threat/vulnerability/risk paradigm (see below). Considering the relatively limited and infrequent loss to the typical four thousand square foot convenience store, corporate CFOs have merely made the decision to spread loss—risk—to their insurance carriers. Only when crashes threaten the corporate bottom line will site security be improved.
  • Communities have been slow to respond to the injury and death of innocent bystanders. This is reflected by the relative absence of municipal or state building codes requiring storefront barriers or horizontal parking designs. However, in the past few years city councils have begun to discuss the need for codes and at least one has instituted them (e.g., Amherst, N.Y. and Miami-Dade County, Fl.).
  • Guidelines, and standards for site security have been addressed by the American Society for Industrial Security (now called ASIS International), are in abundance, and leave no excuse for ignoring the propriety of a protective barrier separating store and parking area. There are many articles on site security design, and by implication storefront safety is not left out, nor is parking lot design. Where bollards are the main hindrance to errant traffic, The National Institute of Building Sciences’ premier Internet portal—the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG)—devotes two industry-standard articles on bollards. One focuses on traffic control barriers meant for a civil people intent on obeying community statutes (The Bollard: Non-Crash and Non-Attack-Resistant Models). The other is in the family of “force protection” (The Bollard: Crash- and Attack-Resistant Models). These are hefty bollards of varying resistance designed to prevent deliberate intrusive crashes or attacks by enemy forces or terrorist groups. Although we’re reluctant to put storefront intruders in the same group as terrorists, the results are the same.
  • ASTM, the organization devoted to establishing standards, has convened a panel to address the bollard needs of storefronts. But a standard already exists among market-ready bollards referenced in the WBDG article (see foregoing) featuring the force protection styles. These have been calibrated to stop vehicles of different weights, traveling at different speeds, and limiting the amount of penetration beyond the point of impact.
  • Corporate chief security officers’ response. The essential model for security decision-making requires answers to three questions: 1. Is there a threat? 2. How vulnerable am I to the threat? 3. What is my risk?
Within the storefront crash culture, corporate officers define vulnerability to one or more of: a court judgment based on premises liability, new ASIS or ASTM standard for bollards, increased insurance premiums or cancelled policies, or new municipal codes. Based on their collective impact within the cultural context, risk will be determined.

In conclusion, the storefront crash culture meme has gained legitimacy by virtue of this website and its statistical documentation of crashes and the various groups involved before and after the crashes. Cultures by their very nature change slowly. So patience, persistence, and knowledge of culture forces are needed to understand corporate decision-making and vendor company marketing and sales strategies.

December 2, 2013

Somebody Call MythBusters!

Image source: Amazon.com
Ben Ross, author and VP of the Action Committee for Transit, made a great point about how bright colors don't seem to prevent drivers from crashing into storefronts, much less improve pedestrian safety, in his post last month on the Greater Greater Washington blog (Do bright clothes stop car crashes? Not at Dunkin' Donuts).

“Cars colliding with buildings should not be a normal part of life. They are a signal that our highway system is seriously out of whack,” he wrote.

Ross noted (with a link to our July 2013 'case study' post about Starbucks) Rob Reiter's suggestion of bollards as one solution.

He also recognized that the vehicle-into-building crash problem isn't limited to Dunkin' Donuts or any other name-brand storefront.

Driver Accountability
So, if bright colors don't seem to help, and businesses are not (yet) flocking to bollard companies, what the heck might work? Ross signaled one possibility in the form of holding drivers more accountable.

“It should be easy to assign fault when car and store collide,” he wrote. Yet police often decline to cite drivers who run into buildings, for various reasons.

As much as I sympathize with the need to hold drivers more accountable, I also wonder: Would more citations change behavior? Would common knowledge of the penalty suffered by one driver serve as a deterrent to other drivers? I'd love to think it would, however, court dockets are full of DUI arrests despite common knowledge of the serious penalties for drinking and driving.

My pessimism about available deterrents leads me back to the place where parking spot and storefront meet. What can be done there to protect people when drivers hit the wrong pedal or make some other mistake that launches their vehicle through the window of a Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks or small mom-and-pop business?

Bollards or other standards-tested barriers? Sure. But you knew I'd say that.

MythBusters to the Rescue?
Image source: Discovery Channel
So, here's an admittedly whimsical thought (not at all meant to make light of the problem, of course). Maybe we should contact the guys on Discovery Channel's MythBusters show and ask them to run a 'controlled' experiment.

The experiment would test the effectiveness of driver-attention strategies in front of simulated-storefront parking spaces.
  • Strategy A: Really give that bright-color idea a workout (despite the apparent flaws of the approach, as Ross pointed out with the pink-and-orange Dunkin' Donuts store colors). Maybe paint the curb and the ubiquitous-but-ineffective wheel stops a shocking shade of chartreuse?
  • Strategy B: Position inflatable “dancing” tube men between storefront windows and parking spaces. (Hey, according to the Wall Street Journal, this strategy is working great to scare birds. Why not to keep drivers alert, too?)
  • And Strategy C: Anything the MythBusters crew wants to try! New ideas are welcome.
Which one do you think would win? (Personally, I'm curious to see what Strategy C might produce.)