Pedestrian safety in U.S. cities lowest in poor, minority areas

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A new report on pedestrian deaths in U. S. cities finds that minorities, the poor and the elderly account for a disproportionately high number of traffic fatalities.

Dangerous by Design 2016” was published this month by Smart Growth America, a Washington-based coalition of state and local organizations that advocate for smart growth across the United States.

While non-white citizens represent about a third of the U. S. population, they account for 46 percent of traffic fatalities. Lack of attention to pedestrian safety by government officials and transportation planners is largely to blame, the report says.

In many low-income and minority communities, streets are designed to prioritize high-speed traffic. Pedestrians walking along roads without sidewalks or crossing in areas that lack crosswalks are indications of inadequate infrastructure.

Though the report’s findings are specific to the United States, they include insight that will be useful to countries across the world dealing with spiking rates of driving and increasing car-focused urban planning.

In the United States, for instance, people age 65 and older are a fast-growing demographic. Yet “transportation planners and engineers do not routinely consider the needs of older people in their street planning,” the report says.

AARP, a Smart Growth America partner that represents seniors, urges planners to factor older drivers and pedestrians into their designs. Such strategies can include accommodations for wheelchairs, better signage and longer crossing times.

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The report, the fourth in a series, features a “Pedestrian Danger Index” that ranks the 104 largest metro areas in all 50 U. S. states according to street safety.

Between 2005 and 2014, the most recent year that statistics are available, 46,149 people were hit and killed by cars in U. S. cities. That equates to 13 deaths a day, a level the authors characterize as an “epidemic”.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Governments at all levels must do more to safeguard pedestrians, especially those at high risk from collisions.
  • City leaders responsible for creating and maintaining pedestrian infrastructure should adopt Complete Streets policies.
  • States responsible for arterial roads in cities should do more to make them safer.
  • National-level government agencies with road and highway oversight should emphasize design safety.

The index also carries some cautionary details. If you’re visiting the sun-splashed tourist destination of Florida, for instance, be careful traversing the road: The seven most dangerous U. S. urban areas for pedestrians are all in Florida, according to the findings. The state’s largest metro region, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, ranks 11th.

In fact, this trend is not new. Florida has been the most dangerous state for walking since Smart Growth America began tabulating pedestrian deaths in 2009, perhaps due to general lack of attention to pedestrian safety in a state where cars have long been prioritized over walkability. Nevertheless, the authors note that Florida is making progress with improved designs that have reduced fatalities.

And where is it safest to be a walker? According to the rankings, that would be Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the western part of the country, and Portland, Maine.

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Smart Growth America works with local, state and national government officials, developers, chambers of commerce, and transportation and urban planning professionals.

The organization strives to improve pedestrian conditions with its National Complete Streets Coalition, an initiative launched in 2004 that aims to ensure that streets are safe for all ages and balance various modes of transportation. According to the coalition, more than 1100 Complete Streets policies have been implemented across the country.

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David Hatch is a correspondent for Citiscope.  Full bio

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