Every day, in communities across the country, people are killed while walking to school, to work or to the store. From 2003 to 2012, more than 47,000 people were killed while walking – sixteen times the number of people who died in natural disasters, but without the corresponding level of urgency. But these deaths can be prevented and it is past time for our state and federal leaders to act.
Dangerous by Design 2014, a new report released today by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, takes a look at where these fatalities happen and who’s most at risk, presenting data from every county, metro area, and state. The report also ranks the major metropolitan areas according to the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), which assesses the safety of walking by normalizing fatality rates by how often people walk to work, and by the share of traffic fatalities suffered by people on foot.
As in past years, Sunbelt communities that grew in the post-war period top the list of most dangerous regions according to the PDI: Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Miami, Memphis, Birmingham, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte. These areas developed rapidly, with many low-density neighborhoods overly dependent on extra wide, fast arterial roads to connect homes, schools, jobs and shops. Such roads rarely feature the facilities needed for safe travel by foot.
The report also calls out the unacceptably high number of pedestrian deaths seen in nearly every major metro region. The fact is that even our most walk-friendly communities can—and must—do more.
Pedestrian fatalities are disproportionately born by older adults, people of color, and children. While just 12.6 percent of the total population, those over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities nationwide. Among people of color, blacks and African Americans suffer a pedestrian fatality 60 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanics of any race have a rate nearly 43 percent higher. And, for the most recent years we have data, 4,394 children aged 15 and younger were killed while walking. Pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death for this age group.
More than half of all pedestrian fatalities occur on arterial roads, and over 60 percent of these tragedies occur on roads with speed limits of 40 mph or higher. Speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities: that’s nearly 10,000 lives lost each year. Speeding not only increases the likelihood of crashes with people on foot, 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 the driver of a vehicle is 6 percent. At 45 mph, the risk of death is 65 percent.
Just as we plan and design our communities to protect us from natural disaster, we can plan and design our communities to keep pedestrians safe. And, when we make our streets safe for people on foot, we get streets that are better for everyone—driving a car or truck, riding a bicycle, or taking public transportation.
The thing is: we know what needs to be done. We know that street design is the most important approach to make our streets safer—and we know how to plan, design and operate our streets to be safer.
Across the country, communities have put increasing emphasis on building Complete Streets in recent years—including major efforts throughout the state of Florida and in many of the cities highlighted as the most dangerous. But this is also more than just a local issue—with two-thirds of pedestrian deaths occurring on roads that were eligible for federal funds and built under federal guidance, it’s clear that this epidemic of fatalities demands a federal response.
The federal government needs to hold states accountable for setting and making real progress toward significantly reducing the number and severity of traffic crashes. We need to adopt a proactive Complete Streets policy so that new transportation projects consider the needs of all users. We need to adopt and use design guides that treat the streets in our communities differently than highways. And we need to make sure that our transportation funds are used to make streets that are safe and convenient for everyone, of all ages and abilities, whether walking, driving, riding a bicycle or taking public transportation.
The report includes these recommendations—and more—for our federal and state leaders to undertake. Every state has its own report, with details for each county and metro area. An online, interactive map shows just where pedestrian fatalities have occurred.