Ever since the car began dominating the way people move throughout the United States, bicycling and walking have become often dangerous and shunted propositions.
Decades later, more engineers, planners, and developers are understanding the importance of rethinking the car-centered designs of roads in order to mitigate the dangers they pose for pedestrians.
Today, Smart Growth America released Dangerous by Design 2016, the fourth edition of the annual pedestrian safety report, which now includes an improved version of its Pedestrian Danger Index, or PDI. While the last edition ranked the largest 51 metro areas, this year’s includes the largest 104 metro areas and adds a ranking of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
The seven most dangerous metro areas, and nine of the 11 worst, are in Florida, with Cape Coral-Fort Myers taking the top (or bottom) spot by a bit of a landslide.
“The PDI is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work – the best available measure of how many people are likely to be out walking each day – and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths,” said Alex Dodds, communications director at Smart Growth America.
The safest metro areas ranked are Colorado Springs, Co.; Portland-South Portland, Me.; and Madison, Wi. Of the states, Vermont, Alaska, and D.C. are the safest, while Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana rank as the most dangerous.
D.C. is a compelling example. Considered the third-safest state, it is 69th most dangerous – near the middle of the pack – as a metro area covering Arlington, Alexandria, and surrounding Maryland counties. “This provides a pretty big hint that the urban walkable places are a lot safer than the sprawling exurban, less walkable, drivable ones,” Dodds said.
SGA and its partners on the report and index – the National Complete Streets Coalition, AARP, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates – found that people of color and older adults are overrepresented among pedestrian deaths, and that PDI is strongly correlated with median household income and rates of uninsured individuals. Poor and minority communities are less likely to have effective pedestrian infrastructure, and in many places street designs lack key features, like curb cuts, that the elderly need.
The groups have several recommendations for cities and advocates, focusing on rethinking how streets are designed.
“The report doesn’t include analysis of why these fatalities happened. The dream would be to have a national inventory of national infrastructure and what these streets look like,” Dodds said.
“There are tons of public-information campaigns about ‘don’t text and drive or drive drunk’ and pedestrian shaming. What gets talked about less is that the way the street is designed is setting a dangerous environment,” she added. “Public-awareness campaigns [are often] missing the point: you have to build a street that builds in safety as a priority.”
Meanwhile, a recent court decision from New York’s Court of Appeals supports this frame from a legal basis. In it, the court ruled that cities are responsible for redesigning streets known to be sites of dangerous driving and can be held liable for failing to do so.
Streetsblog NYC reported last week:
“This decision is a game-changer,” says Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who represents traffic crash victims. “The court held that departments of transportation can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required.”
The New York ruling sets an interesting precedent. As Dodds explains, “If multiple people have been struck and killed on a given street, it should be clear to a DOT that the street is failing the needs of the community.”
She continued: “The data is out there showing what needs to happen: reducing speeds. How do you make that a priority? I don’t know what is more compelling as a motivator than death. The New York ruling might also make DOTs consider whether this is a legal liability as well.”
The full report and other materials are here. SGA encourages people to ensure their towns and states have Complete Streets policies, and to hold their elected officials accountable for using them to create safer streets.
Photo: An intersection in Alexandria in 2008. Today, the crossing has sidewalks and a crosswalk. (Anne Brink, Flickr, Creative Commons).