By Melinda Carstensen
Streets designed to maximize speed for cars have created a dangerous world for pedestrians, a new study argues.
From 2003 to 2012, more than 47,000 people, many of them children, were hit and killed while walking outdoors. An estimated 676,000 were injured. Meanwhile, the number of adults who said they walked for transportation grew 6 percent from 2005 to 2010.
These are just some of the scary statistics outlined in a new report called “Dangerous by Design,” by Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, a group that advocates for better neighborhood planning.
Alissa Walker, of Gizmodo, writes in a recent article that our streets “are enabling our vehicles to become death machines.”
“The problem in this country is that our streets have historically been designed for speed, to help cars go as fast as possible,” Walker says.
Smart Growth America’s report uses a Pedestrian Danger Index, or PDI, to rate the likelihood of a person walking and getting hit by a vehicle in any given U.S. region. The nationwide average is 52.2, and higher numbers are bad.
This year the Metro Orlando area was named the most dangerous U.S. region to walk, with a 2013-2012 PDI of 244.28, four times higher than the national PDI.
The Patch areas of Tampa-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Miami and Memphis follow, and the list wraps up with Birmingham, Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix and Charlotte.
Many of these towns are in the Sunbelt, which in the post-war period grew with wider streets and higher speeds. Then, roadways were designed to help drivers get from point A to point B quickly, but many lacked crosswalks and sidewalks.
As early as the beginning of the 20th century, city officials in New York required narrow sidewalks and wide road lanes to help move traffic, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials launched its Urban Street Design Guide in 2013 with standards for updating streets with bike lanes, speed humps and crosswalks.
“So many things have changed in 50 years, but our streets haven’t, and our design guidance certainly hasn’t,” former NACTO President Janettte Sadik-Khan said in a press release.
In the Patch town of Burlington, Mass., shoppers at the Burlington Mall have to trek more than half a mile down the Middlesex Turnpike to catch a flick across the street at the AMC movie theater. There isn’t a crosswalk between those two destinations.
Among those roads listed are Second Street in Laurel, Maryland, where walking between an office and a bus stop legally requires a .6-mile walk, and Big Beaver Road in Troy, Mich., where the closest crosswalk from LA Fitness to Big Beaver Tavern is more than a half-mile away, at Rochester Road.
StreetScore, a tool developed by MIT’s Media Lab, uses street density, plus the presence of sidewalks and bike lanes, to rate street safety. It doesn’t take traffic crash data into account — just perceived safety. The more pedestrians and bikers present, the safer an area was rated.
Reduced speed limits can also save lives. The Patch National desk wrote last month about an international movement to reduce residential area speed limits to 20 mph that’s gaining momentum in the U.S.
Statistics show a pedestrian hit by a car going 20 mph has a 95 percent survival rate, compared with an 80 percent survival rate at 30 mph, the standard speed limit in many U.S. neighborhoods. Stopping distance for a car going 30 mph is nearly double that of a car going 20.
Which streets do you feel are the most dangerous in your town, and how do you think your local government can help reduce pedestrian deaths?
Which streets do you feel are most unsafe in your town, and how do you think your local government can help reduce pedestrian deaths?