Mean Streets 2000 - Executive Summary
Walking in the United States is a dangerous business. Per
mile traveled, pedestrians are 36 times more likely to die in a collision than
drivers. In this report STPP examines the pedestrian safety problem through
analysis of federal safety, health, and spending statistics. This report
identifies the cities where pedestrians are most at risk, finding that sprawling
communities that fail to create safe places to walk are the most dangerous. It
documents how the dangers of walking in automobile-dominated areas is driving
pedestrians off the street. People are taking far fewer trips by foot, because
walking has become unsafe and inconvenient in so many places. This means a
growing number of people are facing another type of danger: the health
conditions and diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle. This report also
shows that only minimal federal transportation resources have been devoted to
making walking safe and convenient. The final chapter outlines solutions that
can make walking not only safe, but attractive and convenient.
The Most Dangerous Places for Pedestrians
Data collected by the federal government shows that in 1997
and 1998, thirteen percent of all traffic fatalities were pedestrians: a toll of
10,696 people. But the risk of dying as a pedestrian varies depending upon where
you live. STPP analyzed both the amount of walking in a community and the number
of pedestrian deaths in the years 1997 and 1998 (the most recent years for which
localized data are available) to compare the risks faced by the average walker
in different areas. According to this Pedestrian Danger Index, the most
dangerous metro area for walking is Tampa, Florida, followed by Atlanta, Miami,
Orlando, Jacksonville, Phoenix, West Palm Beach, Memphis, Dallas, and New
Orleans. These results show that the most dangerous places for walking tend to
be the newer Southern and Western metro areas.
TEN MOST DANGEROUS LARGE METRO AREAS
||Total Pedestrian Deaths (1997-1998)
||Percentage of Commuters Walking to Work
||1997-1998 Pedestrian Danger Index
||Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
||Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL
||West Palm Beach-Boca Raton FL
||Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
||New Orleans, LA
These are places where sprawling development has often left
pedestrians stranded. Wide roads have been built without sidewalks or frequent
crosswalks, and high-speed traffic makes these roadways particularly deadly. In
many areas, intersections with crosswalks may be as much as a half-mile apart,
leaving pedestrians with no safe way to cross the street. Of the pedestrian
deaths for which information is recorded, almost 60 percent (59.1%) occurred in
places where no crosswalk was available.
As with automobile fatalities, the total number of pedestrian
deaths has dropped slightly over the last few years. However, while the amount
of driving is increasing, the amount of walking is decreasing. This may mean
that driving is getting safer per mile while walking is not.
Some groups of people appear to be at particular risk as
pedestrians, including children, the elderly, and Latinos. Senior citizens and
Latinos have high death rates compared to other populations; Latinos tend to
walk more than other groups even though they often live and go to school in
areas where walking is difficult and dangerous. Children also rely more heavily
on walking to go places. The states with the highest death rates for children in
1997-1998 were South Carolina, Mississippi, Utah, North Carolina, Alabama,
Arizona, Florida, Alaska, and Louisiana.
Walking Less: A Threat to Health
Poor conditions for walking are contributing to a steep drop
in how much Americans walk. According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation
Survey, the number of trips taken on foot dropped by 42 percent in the last 20
years. Among children, walking trips dropped by 37 percent in the same
timeframe, and now almost 70 percent of children’s trips take place in the
back seat of a car. And walking is not getting any easier. Studies in Seattle
and South Carolina both show that the newer a school or housing development, the
less likely that students or residents will go anywhere on foot. Many other
studies have established that community design can make a big difference in
whether people choose to walk.
The decline in walking contributes to a different type of
mortality: death from diseases associated with physical inactivity. The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 Americans die each
year from such conditions, including coronary heart disease, high blood
pressure, and colon cancer. The decrease in walking, the most basic form of
exercise, has recently been recognized as one contributing factor in the
epidemic of obesity in the United States. Health officials are calling for a
return to more walkable communities to improve American health by integrating
walking into everyday life.
A comparison of transportation and health statistics reflects
this trend. As walking has declined, the percentage of overweight adults and
children has increased. In addition, metropolitan areas where people walk less
tend to be places where a higher percentage of people are overweight.
The Neglect of Pedestrian Safety
Despite the clear safety and public health problems outlined
above, pedestrian convenience and safety are generally neglected by state and
regional transportation officials. While Americans take less than six percent of
their trips on foot, thirteen percent of all traffic deaths are pedestrians. Yet
the states use less than one percent (0.6 percent) of all federal transportation
dollars to provide pedestrians with better facilities. Engineers traditionally
design roads from the ‘centerline out,’ focusing almost exclusively on
providing travel lanes for automobiles. Sidewalks are at best an afterthought,
often considered "amenities" that can be left out. On average, the
states spent just 55 cents per person of their federal dollars on pedestrian
projects, compared to 72 dollars per person on highway projects. In some states,
the disparity was even greater. A table with figures for each state can be found
in Chapter 3.
In addition, pedestrian safety is neglected by law
enforcement and safety officials who put full responsibility for avoiding a
collision on the pedestrian, ignoring driver behavior. A study of police reports
in New York City found that drivers were at fault in 74 percent of cases
studied, yet only 16 percent of them were cited. In addition, many safety
programs focus almost exclusively on keeping pedestrians out of the way of cars,
rather than providing safe facilities for walking or promoting responsible
behavior by drivers.
The Path to Safer Streets
The path to safer streets is clear. Communities need to
invest their transportation dollars in pedestrian safety, retrofit streets to
make walking safer, and design new streets and neighborhoods to encourage
walking. Transportation officials should:
Spend on pedestrian safety in proportion to pedestrian
If thirteen percent of all traffic fatalities are
pedestrians, it stands to reason that a similar amount of safety funds should
be devoted to pedestrian safety. In addition, federal transportation dollars
no longer restricted to highway use should be directed toward providing a
variety of safe and convenient pedestrian facilities.
Retrofit streets with traffic calming.
With so many streets designed only for automobiles, it will
take more than a few sidewalks and crosswalks to make them safe and inviting
for pedestrians. Traffic calming techniques, such as curb bulb-outs and
traffic circles, slow down automobiles in key places and reclaim streets for
children, residents, and others on foot or bicycle.
Design new streets and neighborhoods for walking.
More people will walk in neighborhoods where there is
somewhere to walk to. The best neighborhoods for walking put residents within
a reasonable distance of shops, offices, schools, and transit stops, and
provide a street and path network that allows direct routes between them.
Collect more information on pedestrian safety.
Federal databases provide little information about the risks associated with
walking, the effectiveness of pedestrian safety measures, or even how much is
spent on pedestrian safety. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and
the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics should design research programs to
learn more about how to improve pedestrian safety. On the local level, citizens
are already performing "walkability audits" that assess the dangers to
pedestrians, block by block.
The Surface Transportation Policy Project is a nationwide network of more than 800
organizations, including planners, community development organizations, and advocacy groups,
devoted to improving the nation’s transportation system.