CDOT Spikes Campaign That Blamed Pedestrians for Getting Hit by Drivers

Well that was short-lived. After less than two weeks, the Colorado Department of Transportation is dropping a social media campaign championed by Hank, the sleazy infomercial character created to scold people for walking.

As Streetsblog Denver reported a couple weeks ago, the campaign was a tone-deaf repackaging of discredited ideas that blame people for their own deaths. There was no equivalent spot aimed at getting people to drive their multi-ton vehicles safely and attentively in cities. Coming from an agency that has designed so many dangerous urban streets, the campaign reeked of CDOT deflecting responsibility for its own failures.

The videos showed people doing death defying things like crossing the street while using a phone and crossing without a crosswalk. Crazy pedestrians. These actions will get you killed, Hank says as he hawks video tapes from his “How to Get Hit By a Car” series. (Get it?)

Objections from the public compelled CDOT to drop the campaign. CDOT communications manager Sam Cole told Westword: “Even though people understand the cheesy, sarcastic humor around the video and a lot of people have seen the video, we don’t want anybody to misinterpret that to think that pedestrians shouldn’t be taken seriously.”

Of course the campaign was tasteless. But CDOT misses the point. The problem was not “insensitivity,” but that putting the onus on pedestrians to survive is not going to make anyone safer.

CDOT is responsible for Denver’s most deadly streets: Federal Boulevard and Colfax Avenue. These streets aren’t dangerous because people are careless while walking. They’re dangerous because drivers routinely speed through urban neighborhoods at 40 to 50 miles per hour. They’re dangerous because CDOT hasn’t invested enough in street designs that lead motorists to travel at non-fatal speeds and provide safe routes for people on foot.

When CDOT created Hank, it boasted about using “the power of humor” to reach people. Looks like people reached right back with the power of believing that our streets should be safe places to walk.

With apologies to the actor who played him and did his best with a lousy script — good riddance, Hank.