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More than 47,000 people were killed walking the streets of the United States between 2000 and 2009, according to a report that blames automobile-centric transportation policies for failing to adequately protect pedestrians.
The report, Dangerous By Design (.pdf), says many of those deaths could have been prevented by installing sidewalks and crosswalks while reducing speed limits in pedestrian areas. Advocacy group Transportation for America, which compiled the report, argues state and federal transportation officials aren’t spending enough to improve safety for the 107 million people who regularly walk to work, school and other places.
“The decades-long neglect of pedestrian safety in the design and use of American streets is exacting a heavy toll on our lives,” the report states. “Despite the magnitude of these avoidable tragedies, little public attention — and even less in public resources – has been committed to reducing pedestrian deaths and injuries in the United States. On the contrary, transportation agencies typically prioritize speeding traffic over the safety of people on foot or other vulnerable road users.”
The report is a call to arms before Congress ponders a transportation spending bill to dictate the nation’s transportation priorities. Americans make about 10.5 percent of all trips on foot, and Transportation for America believes it’s high time we consider their needs alongside those of motorists — echoing a similar call by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Although pedestrians account for nearly 13 percent of all traffic fatalities, only 1.5 percent of federal transportation funds are allocated to retrofitting roads with sidewalks and other pedestrian safety features.
“Some in Congress have questioned the federal interest in keeping pedestrians safe, believing it to be a strictly local issue,” says James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “But two-thirds of all pedestrian fatalities in the last 10 years occurred on federal-aid roadways.”
The report updates a similar study Transportation for America released two years ago. It’s worth noting that automotive traffic fatalities declined 27 percent between 2000 and 2009. Pedestrian fatalities fell as well, but only half as much — 14 percent. What’s more, pedestrian fatalities actually increased in 15 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas.
All told, 47,000 people were killed, a rate of 1.6 deaths per 100,000 people. Another 688,000 people were injured during the past decade, which the report states is the equivalent of one person being hit by a car or truck every seven minutes. The report blames wide roads, relatively high traffic speeds and a dearth of sidewalks and crosswalks — even in residential areas. Just over half of the deaths occurred on wide roads, called arterials, designed to carry lots of traffic.
In compiling the report, Transportation for America examined 10 years of data from the nation’s 52 largest major metro areas, then divided the number of pedestrian fatalities by each city’s population to create a Pedestrian Danger Index.
Orlando, Florida — where 1.2 percent of residents walk to work — topped the list of most dangerous cities with a score of 255.4 on the index. It recorded 557 pedestrian deaths between 2000 and 2009, an annual average of 3.0 deaths per 100,000 people. It was followed by three more cities in Florida: Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. Riverside, California rounded out the top five cities with the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities.
At the other end of the spectrum, Boston was the safest city with a score of 21.6. It recorded 481 pedestrian fatalities between 2000 and 2009, an average annual rate of 1.1 deaths per 100,000 people. Joining Boston among the safest cities were Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis.
Transportation for America says the safest cities tend to have more comprehensive networks of sidewalks, crosswalks and long histories of people walking and riding bicycles to get around. Although the report focused on major metropolitan areas, it notes that just over one in four fatalities occurred in rural communities. It attributes that to the dearth of pedestrian infrastructure in such areas.
Minority communities and the elderly make up a disproportionate percentage of pedestrian deaths. Although Hispanics account for 13.9 percent of the population, they account for 18.5 percent of accidents. Those 65 and older comprise 12.4 percent of the population but 21.7 percent of those killed. The report says traffic lights and crossing signals do not account for the longer periods of time the elderly may need to cross a street.
Transportation for America says we’ve seen improvement since its last report. Several cities are embracing the “complete streets” model of urban planning, which considers the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit alongside those of motorists. But there is more work to do.
The organization outlines several proposals for increasing pedestrian safety, including adopting a nationwide “complete streets” policy. Transportation planners also must focus on filling in gaps in our network of sidewalks and crosswalks to make walking and cycling through major metro areas safer. Congress should allocate a larger share of transportation funding to improving pedestrian safety, and states must be held accountable for creating more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.
“Investing to make our roads safer is not a frill, but an urgent matter of life and death,” Corless says. “Federal programs that caused the dangerous roads to be built must now be reformed to help communities make them safer.”
Report: Streets Pose Mortal Threat to Pedestrians | Autopia | Wired.com