Dangerous by Design: Report Advocates for Pedestrian Safety

People of Color, Elderly Most at Risk

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Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2017 1:33 pm

Between 2005 and 2014, a total of 46,149 Americans were struck and killed by cars while walking. A new report released this month by Smart Growth America and its National Complete Streets Coalition argues that street design is a leading factor in this escalating problem.

More than 1,200 Complete Streets policies are now in place at the state, regional, and local levels, and over the last year federal agencies have followed suit with changes in national policy intended to make streets safer for everyone, the report says.

In 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, 4,884 people were killed by a car while walking — 105 people more than in 2013. On average, 13 people were struck and killed by a car while walking every day in 2014. And between 2005 and 2014, Americans were 7.2 times more likely to die as a pedestrian than from a natural disaster.

The new report, Dangerous by Design 2016, takes a closer look at this alarming epidemic, and ranks the 104 largest metro areas in the country, as well as every state, by the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) — a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.

Southern states, particularly Florida, are the most dangerous for pedestrians. The seven most dangerous metropolitan areas in 2016 were all in Florida, with the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area topping the list.

The fourth edition of this report also includes a significant racial and income-based examination of the people who are most at risk, showing that people of color and older adults are over-represented among pedestrian deaths, and that PDI is correlated with median household income and rates of uninsured individuals. Download the report to read the full findings.

The following are excerpts from the report, which received support from AARP, the American Society of Landscape Architects and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates:

Non-white individuals account for 34.9 percent of the national population but make up 46.1 percent of pedestrian deaths. In some states, this disparity is even starker. In North Dakota, for example, Native Americans make up just five percent of the population but account for almost 38 percent of pedestrian deaths. Older adults are similarly at higher risk: individuals 65 years or older are 50 percent more likely than younger individuals to be struck and killed by a car while walking.

Low-income metro areas are predictably more dangerous than higher-income ones: as median household incomes drop, PDI rises. Similar trends bear out with rates of uninsured individuals, meaning that the people who can least afford to be injured often live in the most dangerous places. The temptation is to think this may be due to lower income people walking more, but this study seeks to control for that.

The way we design streets is a factor in these fatal collisions. Many of these deaths occur on streets with fast-moving cars and poor pedestrian infrastructure. People walk along these roads despite the clear safety risks—a sign that streets are not adequately serving everyone in the community.

First developed in the 1990s by the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and used more recently by Smart Growth America’s Transportation for America program, PDI is the rate of pedestrian deaths relative to the number of people who walk to work in the region. Measuring danger as a rate and not an absolute count corrects for cities that may have higher numbers of deaths simply as a function of higher numbers of people on foot overall.

Florida has been the most dangerous state for walking since Smart Growth America first began tracking these numbers in 2009. This year’s analysis is no different: Florida has the highest PDI of any state, and it’s home to eight of the ten most dangerous metro areas in the nation.

State leaders have seen these sobering numbers and are taking action. In September 2014, four months after Dangerous by Design 2014 came out, the Florida Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets policy with the goal of reducing pedestrian deaths in the state. Not content to simply pass a policy, the agency has also taken decisive steps to put it into practice. In December 2015, the agency published its Complete Streets Implementation Plan, an ambitious and comprehensive commitment to change the way roads are designed and built in Florida to make them safer for all types of travelers.

Florida’s improved safety efforts are reflected in its statewide PDI, which, though still the worst in the nation, has declined by 5.8 points since 2011.

Local communities in Florida are joining the effort as well: more than 70 Complete Streets policies are now in place across the state. Many of these metro areas have seen their PDIs decline since 2011 — most notably Miami-Fort Lauderdale (-22.8), Tampa-St. Petersburg (-20.7), and Orlando-Kissimmee (-20.7).

Nationally, the majority of individual metro areas’ PDIs have improved since 2014. Thirty out of 51 metro areas became less dangerous, with lower PDIs in 2016 compared to 2014. Three saw no change, and 18 became more dangerous and saw their PDIs rise.

Most individual state PDIs have worsened since 2014. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia saw their PDI numbers rise, meaning they became more dangerous for people walking. Nineteen states saw their PDI numbers decline. The rise in most individual state PDIs is in keeping with the rise in their overall average PDI.

The data show that street design matters. Multiple studies have found that reducing the number of travel lanes and installing median islands have substantially reduced all crashes, including those that often result in serious injury or death for pedestrians. Reducing speeding can be similarly lifesaving. Nationally, speeding causes nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities each year, or close to 10,000 deaths. Speeding increases the likelihood of crashes with people walking and also it increases the probability that those crashes will cause injuries that are far more serious. At 20 mph, the risk of death to a person on foot struck by a vehicle is 6 percent. At 30 mph, that risk of death is three times greater. And at 45 mph, the risk of death is 65 percent — 11 times greater.

Policy, design, enforcement, and culture all contribute to these dangerously high speeds. Road designs meant for highways — such as wide, straight lanes — can be dangerous when applied to the streets that go through communities and are lined with homes, shops, schools and offices. These road designs can encourage people to drive far faster than intended or appropriate for these community streets where people need and want to walk.

Policy, design, enforcement, and culture can also be part of the solution. Understanding how people use — and want to use — streets and public spaces is the first step.

A Complete Streets approach helps transportation planners and engineers see streets from this perspective, and consider how to keep people walking separate from people driving vehicles; keep traffic speeds low; ensure sidewalks and curb ramps are accessible to people with disabilities; and clarify where each road user should be expected to travel. With these principles set, planners, landscape architects, and engineers can select from a large set of nationally used appropriate design elements, including but not limited to: wide sidewalks; curb extensions; refuge islands; pedestrian countdown signals; leading pedestrian interval signal timing; midblock crossings (especially at transit stops); pedestrian hybrid beacons; narrow travel lanes; planting street trees; restricted right turns on red lights; compact intersections; back-in angled parking and smaller curb radii.

Governments at all levels need to do more to protect people from being struck and killed or injured by cars while walking. In particular, leaders must take action to better protect people who are consistently at higher risk of these collisions.

Changing how we design and build infrastructure is an enormous part of the solution. Local, state, and federal government all play a role in creating and maintaining our transportation system. That also means government can and should take action to transform our historical transportation planning processes that focus just on vehicles to one that recognizes all users, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, income, ability, or mode.

The next step is to transform these policies into changes on the ground. Communities across the country must use these policies to change how transportation decisions are made, how roadways are designed, and ultimately, how projects get built.

Smart Growth America works with elected officials, real estate developers, chambers of commerce, transportation and urban planning professionals, governors, and leaders in Washington to improve everyday life for people across the country through better development.

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