Where the Sidewalk Ends

17 Aug

With more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009, the Orlando-Kissimmee region was first out of 52 in the rankings of most dangerous pedestrian regions in the United States, according to a new report from Transportation for America, a nonprofit advocacy organization. The report uses 10 years of pedestrian fatality data and census figures to make their calculations relative to the amount of walking in a given area. Using that scale, New York City-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, home to the highest number of people who walk to work, is considered one of the safest cities for pedestrians, at least relatively speaking.

According to the report, Dangerous by Design, pedestrians account for about 12 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths each year, translating to over 4,000 deaths and 59,000 injuries in 2009. From 2000-2009 there were 47,700 deaths. The report outlines the issues facing pedestrian safety and claims that this population is largely ignored from a budget and resource perspective. The report cites the 27-percent drop in motor vehicle deaths in 10 years, but only a 14 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities during the same period. In some areas, the pedestrian number has increased. Most of these deaths are considered accidents on the part of the driver or pedestrian, but Transportation for America says the common thing that connects these deaths is that they occur on roads that are not conducive to walkers, bicyclists, or people in wheelchairs. This has caused a dilemma with health officials working to encourage walking and biking to combat obesity, while some of the streets to do that on are not safe in many areas. By analyzing census figures and fatality data, the report highlights communities that pose higher risks of death or injury to pedestrians. The 10 worst metro areas are:

  1. Orlando/Kissimmee, Florida
  2. Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida
  3. Jacksonville, Florida
  4. Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano, Florida
  5. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario, California
  6. Las Vegas/Paradise, Nevada
  7. Memphis, Tennessee
  8. Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, Arizona
  9. Houston/Sugar Land/Baytown, Texas
  10. Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, Texas

Transportation for America recommends that the next federal transportation spending bill include the following provisions:

Retain dedicated federal funding for the safety of people on foot or on bicycle. Congress is currently contemplating elimination of dedicated funding for Transportation Enhancements and the Safe Routes to School program, the two largest funding sources for bike and pedestrian facilities. Without these committed funding streams, states will likely reduce spending for safety features like sidewalks, crosswalks and trails.

Adopt a national complete streets policy. Ensure that all federally funded road projects take into account the needs of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users, as well as children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities.

Fill in the gaps. Beyond making new and refurbished roads safer for pedestrians, we need to create complete networks of sidewalks, bicycle paths and trails so that residents can travel safely throughout an area. To this end, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has gathered testimony from 53 communities outlining how they could fill in strategic gaps to make walking and bicyling to routine destinations more safe and convenient with small targeted federal grants.

Commit a fair share for safety. In 2008, only two states spent any of their Highway Safety funding to improve infrastructure for bicycling and walking. Yet, pedestrians and bicyclists make up 14 percent of all traffic-related fatalities. Federal, state and local governments should set safety goals that not only reduce fatalities overall, but also reduce fatalities for individual modes, with separate safety goals for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and motorists.

Hold states accountable for creating communities that are safe for walking. Congress must hold states accountable to ensure that transportation funds are spent wisely, by ensuring that:

• New streets are built to be safe for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, and motorists alike;
• The most dangerous roads are retrofitted for safety; and,
• Federal safety dollars result in lives saved and a more active population.

The list of all 52 metro areas can be found here.

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