Meet Hank, the Guy CDOT Created to Scold People Who Get Hit By Drivers

Ever wonder what runs through the bureaucratic hive mind of a transportation agency still laboring under last century’s paradigm, trying to evade culpability for designing wide, fast, deadly roads? An agency that thinks the key to remaining relevant is to tweak the same old messages for a Millennial audience by posting to the social medias and the YouTubes?

Wonder no more: The Colorado Department of Transportation launched a tasteless “pedestrian safety” campaign yesterday that answers all your questions.

CDOT, understanding the power of satire, attempts to make getting hit by a driver humorous. You see, according to a press release, there’s this “approachably sarcastic and unassumingly charming salesman” named Hank. Hank wants to sell you VHS tapes on how to get hit by cars. Hank, you rascal. No one wants to get hit by a car. Ha!

Hank informs viewers that the best ways to invite death and serious injury while walking are to use a phone while crossing the street and to cross without a crosswalk. (Follow Hank on Facebook to get updates on the different breeds of mockable pedestrians, such as Texter Tuck & Roll, the Scotch & Soda Stumble, and the I Could Care Less Crosser.)

I wonder if Hank has ever tried navigating Colfax Avenue, Federal Boulevard, Sheridan Boulevard, or Colorado Boulevard — all state highways under CDOT’s jurisdiction — on foot. Take the section of Colfax Avenue from Colorado Boulevard to Cherry Street, for example: There’s a span of seven intersections with zero crosswalks.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 10.35.17 AM
It’s tough to use crosswalks that don’t exist. Image: Google Maps.

I asked CDOT traffic safety communications manager Sam Cole why the agency would choose this message when crosswalks are so few and far between. Does CDOT expect people to see their destination across the street and walk 20 minutes out of their way to get to it?

“To me that’s a safer approach than just throwing in the towel,” Cole said. “You are risking your life if you continuously [cross without a crosswalk]. We know that most of the places these deaths are happening at are where people don’t use crosswalks.”

Probably because they don’t exist.

If Hank were a real person, instead of CDOT incarnate, would he change his tune if he knew that most of the people killed while walking or biking in Denver had their lives snuffed out on one of the agency’s urban highways? These CDOT roads criss-cross the metro area and the state, and they all have one thing in common: They were built to move cars fast, not allow people to safely navigate them on foot.

So, maybe CDOT could invest in safer street designs on its urban highways? Nah. Hank isn’t about that. Hank is all about shifting attention away from deadly engineering practices by blaming victims instead. That’s what “education” amounts to in this context.Fatality_rates

Surely, there’s at least a similar education campaign aimed at drivers looking out for pedestrians, seeing as how people walking or using a wheelchair are any street’s most vulnerable user, no matter who’s at fault.

“We don’t have a direct campaign that says, ‘Drivers, be careful of pedestrians,’ because I think all drivers know they need to be careful about pedestrians,” Cole said.

Okay then, no need for Hank to educate drivers. People on foot have to be told that they can be killed by multi-ton vehicles moving at 40 or 50 mph, but drivers just instinctively know how to avoid harming other people. Drivers are already aware that if they hit a pedestrian at 40 mph, there’s an 85 percent likelihood that person will die.

Hank is straight out of the 1950s, and so is the mentality he represents. Putting the onus on pedestrians to survive absolves drivers from using streets responsibly and DOTs from designing them for everyone.

  • Danny L

    I used to work down the street from CDOT headquarters, and biked in every day. Riding along the shoulder with my reflective backpack and flashing back like, I swear every few days Hank would speed by me at 50 mph on his way in, tossing VHS tapes at me while shouting nonsense.

  • Icyclegirl303

    I’ve been waiting to hear what you had to say about this campaign. As a pedestrian (as most of us are), I find it insulting. The sidewalk campaign markings are stamped on the corners next to our office building. Almost daily, if not several times a day, I see drivers making a left onto Broadway while the light is red and there are pedestrians in the crosswalk. I see so many of these drivers talking on their phones or texting. It is just a matter of time until someone is hit here. Of course pedestrians should pay attention too, but this campaign clearly puts the onus on the pedestrians. Tasteless and outdated, indeed.

  • Demographer4844

    I noticed this bit of propaganda at the intersection of 38th and Tennyson yesterday. What year is it!?

    • Fair is fair, I think drivers need plastering of “Drive Carefully, Slow Down, Pedestrians (or their families) SUE!”

    • Liz Simmons

      ugh.

  • OrangeFree

    Blog that hates cars finds campaign that puts some of the onus on pedestrians to be bad. News at 11.

  • Susan Barnes-Gelt

    Maybe city leaders need to change the Shakespeare quote inscribed on the wall adjacent to the 14th Plaza entrance to the Webb Bldg from What is the City but the People to What is the City but the Vehicle/1

  • AlCum

    A legal pedestrian crosswalk exists at every street intersection. It is legal to cross at all seven of those intersections along Colfax. It does not have to be painted to be a crosswalk. I do think it would be a good idea though to add the painted crosswalks at those locations where there is a lot of foot traffic.

    • neroden

      If City of Denver won’t do it, it’s something for the Department of DIY to do….

      • The real question should be why is Colfax still under ColoDOT control? US 40 has been supplanted by I-70. US 287? C’mon!

    • Christian Mannhood

      Yeah, someone needs to tell drivers.

      I try to cross 13th and 14th Ave all the time (with small children at that) and I have yet to have anyone stop for me.

      Bummer CDOT doesn’t try to tell people driving those 1-2 ton pieces of metal, that they need to get off the phone.

      • AlCum

        Well, you have to wait for traffic to clear. Don’t expect that a driver will stop for you if you step out in front of him. Having a crosswalk and having the right of way are two different things.

        • Christian Mannhood

          Every intersection on 13th and 14th and Colfax for that matter has a cross walk.

          • AlCum

            Correct.

  • “Scotch and Stumble”? Is that a reference to walking drunk? Hank’s right! Those drunks should be in cars. Much safer there.

  • Liz Simmons

    Thanks for sharing. I can’t understand how they thought this was a good idea. Also, I’d be curious to know how much it cost to develop this video.

    • David Sachs

      $200,000 from a federal grant.

  • Jillian

    I also find this campaign insulting to the pedestrian. I attempt to cross at 13th and Broadway every week day and I take my life in my hands each time. At least three times a week, I witness near-misses of drivers hitting pedestrians while in the crosswalk. Three times, I’ve witnessed car-ped accidents with the driver at fault each time. I’ve witnessed drivers yelling at pedestrians to get out of the way. That intersection is a nightmare. How about telling the drivers to slow down, obey the traffic rules and get off their damn phones!

    • Icyclegirl303

      Yep. That’s exactly the intersection I was referring to.

  • Mediawoman

    This is not the first time the idiots in the communications office have put these campaigns out there and retracted them. Last year or two years ago they impersonated a russian guy. I work in CDOT HQ – the ridiculous nature of these “Stunts” that Amy Ford has brought is the worst. She is the most self-centered person in the building, it is her idea or no ones.

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