Where walking is a lethal activity


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

Disney World is safe to traverse on foot. And Celebration is undoubtedly pleasing, too. But in metropolitan Orlando, if you like to walk, you should be wary because, according to a new report, Dangerous by Design 2011, the Orlando-Kissimmee area is the nation’s most lethal region for pedestrians.

For the reportTransportation for America examined pedestrian fatalities from 20o0 through 2009 in every US metropolitan area of more than 1 million inhabitants—the conclusion: the Orlando-Kissimmee area performed the worst of all the 52 regions that were studied.

In the Orlando region, a mere 1.2 percent of employed people walked to work, yet during the ten years, 557 pedestrians were killed. By contrast, the safest of the 52 regions — metropolitan Boston — had more than double the number of inhabitants and more than four times the percentage of people walking to work. Yet, its pedestrian death count was lower:  483 fatalities over the decade.

Dangerous by Design assigns each metro area a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) rating based on the percentage of people walking to work and the number of pedestrians killed per 100,000. For example, the Orlando area’s PDI was 255.4. The Boston region was 21.6.

Other Florida metropolitan areas also turned out to be extremely dangerous for pedestrians. The nation’s second-most-hazardous area was Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, with a PDI of 212.7. In that region, there were 3.5 pedestrian fatalities per year per 100,000 people, three times Boston’s rate of 1.1 deaths per 100,000.

The third-most-dangerousrous metropolitan area in the US was Jacksonville, with 2.8 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people ith a PDI of 177.8. Fourth was Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, with 2.9 deaths per 100,000 and a PDI of 167.9.

After Boston, the safest regions for walking were the Cleveland area, greater New York (which had the highest proportion of people walking to work: 6.1 percent), and Pittsburgh.

Why so much danger?

The report raised whether Florida’s high pedestrian death rates may have resulted from the state’s role as a haven for retirees. But statistics showed that people 65 and over accounted for 22 percent of pedestrian deaths in Florida, the same as the average across the US.

More likely, the report says, a region’s pedestrian death rate reflects the nature of its development and transportation system. “The list of the most dangerous metro areas for walking is striking in that all of the ten metro areas are in the South or West and have seen rapid growth in recent decades of low-density development, characterized by high-speed urban roads that are particularly hazardous for walking,” the report observes.

However, people 65 and older die in pedestrian accidents more often than most other population segments. Only one-eighth of the nation’s population is 65 or older, yet more than a fifth of America’s pedestrian fatalities are concentrated in that age group.

“The higher fatality rate for older pedestrians,” the report says, “can probably be attributed to several factors: 1) older pedestrians are more likely to die than young people in a similar crash; 2) existing pedestrian infrastructure, such as the duration of crosswalk signals, ignores the needs of older walkers; and, 3) older pedestrians are more likely to have physical impairments that decrease their ability to avoid oncoming traffic.”

The other age group that suffers a disproportionate loss of life is children. According to mortality data from the federal Centers for Disease Control, pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger. Nearly 3,900 children 15 years and younger were killed while walking from 2000 through 2007, representing between 25 and 30 percent of all traffic deaths.

“These numbers are especially high considering that only a fraction of children today walk or bicycle to school, largely because of their parents’ fears of traffic,” the report notes. “When surveyed, parents express concerns about a range of perceived safety hazards: the amount of traffic on roads (71.3 percent), the speed of traffic (69.8 percent), in- adequate or missing sidewalks (48.6 percent), and poor quality or missing crosswalks (39 percent) — all factors influenced by street design.”

How fast a motor vehicle goes is a significant determinant of whether the pedestrian will be killed. For example, if struck by a car traveling 20 mph, 95 percent of pedestrians will survive. At 30 mph, the survival rate drops to 55 percent. At 40 mph, only 15 percent stay.

To new urbanists, it will not be surprising that, as the report notes, “most pedestrians are killed on the wider, higher capacity and higher-speed roads called arterials. These roads are called arterials because they connect major destinations within an urban or rural area. More than 52 percent of the 47,067 pedestrians killed (for whom roadway classification data were recorded) over the ten years died on principal or minor arterials.”

“Many states persist in requiring a minimum of 12-foot lanes on all roadways, though research shows that in urban areas, 12-foot lanes show no safety benefit over 10-foot lanes,” the report points out.

“For the nation as a whole, the pedestrian death rate remains stubbornly high and tops most of our international peers by a significant margin,” Transportation for America says. “Canada and Australia, both developed countries with a similar infrastructure to the U.S., have pedestrian fatality rates of 1.1 and 0.9 per 100,000, respectively, compared to 1.6 for the U.S.”

What to do

Among the report’s recommendations:

• Retain dedicated federal funding for the safety of people on foot or on a bicycle. Congress is contemplating eliminating 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 on safety features like sidewalks, crosswalks, and trails.

• Adopt a national complete streets policy.

Ensure that all federally funded road projects consider the needs of all transportation system users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities.

• Fill in the gaps. Beyond making new and re-furbished roads safer for pedestrians, we need to create 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 strategic gaps to make walking and bicycling 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 different safety goals for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and motorists.

Pedestrian deaths are mapped on an interactive web page, as previously noted by New Urban Network, allowing readers to see how their city is faring.