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Mean Streets 2000 - Executive Summary

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.


Rank Metro Area Total Pedestrian Deaths (1997-1998) Percentage of Commuters Walking to Work 1997-1998 Pedestrian Danger Index
1 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 192 2.27% 91
2 Atlanta, GA 185 1.45% 83
3 Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL 274 2.25% 81
4 Orlando, FL 139 3.46% 65
5 Jacksonville, FL 71 2.57% 64
6 Phoenix,AZ 190 2.65% 60
7 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton FL 49 1.99% 58
8 Memphis, TN-AR-MS 70 2.96% 52
9 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 192 1.86% 52
10 New Orleans, LA 88 3.09% 52

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 deaths.

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.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Chapter One - America's Dangerous Streets

Chapter Two - The Dangers of Walking Less

Chapter Three - The Neglect of Pedestrian Safety

Chapter Four - Solutions for Safer Streets





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