Study Says Streets Getting Meaner In Most Places
Walking remains the most dangerous mode of transportation, and some areas of the country are becoming markedly more dangerous says a report from the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP).
The study, Mean Streets 2004, which was released by STPP in conjunction with AARP, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, American Planning Association, American Public Health Association (APHA), American Society of Landscape Architects, prominent local and state policymakers who are leaders on pedestrian safety and numerous state and local transportation advocates, assesses the data and recommends specific actions that governments can take to increase pedestrian safety.
Mean Streets’ findings include:
— In 2003, 4,827 Americans (11.3 percent of all traffic fatalities) died while crossing the street, walking to school or work, going to a bus stop, or strolling to the grocery, among other daily activities. Over the ten-year period 1994-2003, 51,989 pedestrians have died on U.S. streets.
— Senior citizens, African-American and Latino pedestrians suffer a fatality rate well in excess of the population at large.
— Despite a decline in the total number of pedestrian fatalities over the decade and even though walking as a share of total trips declined even faster, more than half of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas grew more dangerous.
The Orlando (FL) metropolitan area, which has seen an increase in pedestrian death rate of more than 117 percent in the last ten years, ranks as the area with the meanest streets today, as well as the streets that have worsened the most over the last decade. Other metropolitan areas with worsening pedestrian death rates over the last ten years included Richmond (VA) with a more than 70 percent increase in deaths and Memphis (TN) with a rate of 42.6 percent.
“The Mean Streets 2004 report provides a useful yardstick for elected officials and transportation leaders to measure progress, or lack thereof, in making pedestrians and their communities safer,” said Anne Canby, president of STPP. “Nearly 52,000 pedestrian deaths over the last ten years is a staggering figure that demands that we do much more to make walking a safer travel option.”
Turning from trends to a snapshot of pedestrian safety today, Mean Streets 2004 found that the most dangerous streets in America are clustered in Florida: Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach, and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale are the top four, while Jacksonville ranks eighth. Other cities in the top ten are Memphis (TN), Atlanta (GA), Greensboro (NC), Phoenix (AZ), and Houston (TX).
The news is not all bleak. The Salt Lake City (UT) area cut its pedestrian death rate in half over the last decade, Portland (OR) reduced pedestrian deaths by one-third, and Austin (TX), New Orleans (LA), and Los Angeles (CA) saw their death rates drop by nearly 20 percent.
“America’s mean streets are meanest to our youngest and oldest citizens, and to African-American and Latino pedestrians,” said Judith E. Espinosa, chair of the STPP Board of Directors. “We need to find out why this is happening and take the necessary steps to correct it.”
Mean Streets 2004 recommends upgrading sidewalks, signals, streets and other pedestrian infrastructure already in place to improve the pedestrian environment, putting more emphasis on pedestrian safety in the decision-making process for future transportation plans, slowing down traffic through traffic-calming and enforcement, and promoting walking as a transportation alternative. The report also recommends that states allocate a higher share of federal transportation dollars to pedestrian safety. It finds that in four of the top ten metropolitan areas showing the greatest decline in pedestrian safety, state spending of federal dollars available to pedestrian safety actually declined, and that many states actually elected not to spend federal funds specifically available to pedestrian and bicycle safety projects.
Mean Streets notes some simple improvements such as crosswalks and speed limit enforcement that can make a difference. Only one- tenth of pedestrian deaths in 2002-2003 occurred inside a crosswalk, and a recent federal study shows a 95 percent survivability rate for pedestrians struck by a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour while those struck at 40 mph survived just 15 percent of the time.
“This study is an important wake-up call that documents the preventable suffering that those of us who have worked in emergency departments have seen individually,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, executive director of the American Public Health Association and board member of Advocates for Highway Safety. “Pedestrian deaths are traumatic and, in too many circumstances, avoidable tragedies. By making walking and biking safe, we not only improve transportation options, but the exercise can also improve our health.”
Mean Streets draws from U.S. Census data, U.S. Department of Transportation statistics, studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and academic research on transportation, demographics and public health. The figures are combined to develop a “Pedestrian Danger Index” (PDI) that examines per capita pedestrian fatalities relative to the amount of walking. Mean Streets 2004 found that on a national average, the PDI grew from 54.8 to 57.5 between 1994 and 2003.