10 February 2005

10/02/05. America’s streets are growing meaner for pedestrians

Program: The New Mobility Agenda

Note: In our push to more sustainable and fairer transportation arrangements, we need to look for examples and lessons, good and bad. Walking in most US cities is, sadly, among the latter. But we have a chance to learn from these mistakes, if we chose to. This latest annual survey from our colleagues at the excellent Surface Transportation Policy Project in Washington D.C. helps point up these lessons and shares with us their recommendations for doing better.

Mean Streets 2004: How Far Have WE Come?

America’s streets are growing meaner for pedestrians

-- Tenth year of metropolitan pedestrian safety study pinpoints Orlando with the worst record, Salt Lake City as most improved --

The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP)’s Mean Streets 2004 study reveals that walking remains the most dangerous mode of transportation, and some areas of the country are becoming markedly more dangerous.

The study, released by STPP in conjunction with AARP, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, American Planning Association, American Public Health Association (APHA), American Society of Landscape Architects, prominent local and state policymakers who are leaders on pedestrian safety and numerous state and local transportation advocates, assesses the data and recommends specific actions that governments can take to increase pedestrian safety.

Mean Streets’ findings include:

  • In 2003, 4,827 Americans (11.3 percent of all traffic fatalities) died while crossing the street, walking to school or work, going to a bus stop, or strolling to the grocery, among other daily activities. Over the ten-year period 1994-2003, 51,989 pedestrians have died on U.S. streets.
  • Senior citizens, African-American and Latino pedestrians suffer a fatality rate well in excess of the population at large.
  • Despite a decline in the total number of pedestrian fatalities over the decade and even though walking as a share of total trips declined even faster, more than half of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas grew more dangerous.
The Orlando (FL) metropolitan area, which has seen an increase in pedestrian death rate of more than 117 percent in the last ten years, ranks as the area with the meanest streets today, as well as the streets that have worsened the most over the last decade. Other metropolitan areas with worsening pedestrian death rates over the last ten years included Richmond (VA) with a more than 70 percent increase in deaths and Memphis (TN) with a rate of 42.6 percent.

“The Mean Streets 2004 report provides a useful yardstick for elected officials and transportation leaders to measure progress, or lack thereof, in making pedestrians and their communities safer,” said Anne Canby, president of STPP. “Nearly 52,000 pedestrian deaths over the last ten years is a staggering figure that demands that we do much more to make walking a safer travel option.”

Turning from trends to a snapshot of pedestrian safety today, Mean Streets 2004 found that the most dangerous streets in America are clustered in Florida: Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach, and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale are the top four, while Jacksonville ranks eighth. Other cities in the top ten are Memphis (TN), Atlanta (GA), Greensboro (NC), Phoenix (AZ), and Houston (TX).

The news is not all bleak. The Salt Lake City (UT) area cut its pedestrian death rate by nearly half over the last decade, Portland (OR) reduced pedestrian deaths by one-third, and Austin (TX), New Orleans (LA), and Los Angeles (CA) saw their death rates drop by nearly 20 percent.

“America’s mean streets are meanest to our youngest and oldest citizens, and to African-American and Latino pedestrians,” said Judith E. Espinosa, chair of the STPP Board of Directors. “We need to find out why this is happening and take the necessary steps to correct it.”

The health risk of walking less

While walking presents some dangers, not walking may hold more hazards. As children have been walking less, the percentage of children who are obese or overweight has soared. The same is true for adults: the portion of people who walk to work dropped by 25 percent between 1990 and 2002, at the same time that the percentage of the population who are obese jumped 70 percent. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action on the obesity epidemic calls for providing safe and accessible sidewalks, walking, and bicycle paths. Physical inactivity is also associated with a heightened risk for many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and pancreatic and breast cancer.

The medical costs of physical inactivity are estimated at about $76 billion per year. Meanwhile, the federal transportation program, which weighs in at about $46 billion per year, spends less than one percent of that – about $240 million annually – on creating safer places to walk and bicycle.

Automobile-oriented transportation networks are sometimes so seamless that commuters can go directly from the garages of their homes to the basements in their worksites without so much as a short walk. The same attention needs to be directed to making other trips more seamless, including the pedestrian, bicycle and transit facilities that both encourage walking and make walking safer. This means wider sidewalks (if there are sidewalks at all), improved lighting, safe crossings and attractive transit wait areas can combine to improve the experience of walking. Community designs that emphasize other travel options – walking, biking and transit – are needed to support additional activity and better health.


Mean Streets 2004 recommends upgrading sidewalks, signals, streets and other pedestrian infrastructure already in place to improve the pedestrian environment, putting more emphasis on pedestrian safety in the decision-making process for future transportation plans, slowing down traffic through traffic-calming and enforcement, and promoting walking as a transportation alternative. The report also recommends that states allocate a higher share of federal transportation dollars to pedestrian safety. It finds that in four of the top ten metropolitan areas showing the greatest decline in pedestrian safety, state spending of federal dollars available to pedestrian safety actually declined, and that many states actually elected not to spend federal funds specifically available to pedestrian and bicycle safety projects.

Mean Streets notes some simple improvements such as crosswalks and speed limit enforcement that can make a difference. Only one-tenth of pedestrian deaths in 2002-2003 occurred inside a crosswalk, and a recent federal study shows a 95 percent survivability rate for pedestrians struck by a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour while those struck at 40 mph survived just 15 percent of the time.

Recommendations for state and federal action

Americans strongly support greater investment and commitment to pedestrian safety. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans favor putting more federal dollars toward improving walkability, even within a constrained budget.[2] The effort to create a better walking environment would be much more effective if local, state and federal transportation agencies embraced walking as a transportation priority by taking the following actions:


· Fix What We Have to correct the many deficiencies that now exist in the nation’s transportation infrastructure, by developing pedestrian action plans, adopting “fix-it-first” policies, establishing Safe Routes to School programs, ensuring a “fair share” commitment of transportation funds to pedestrian safety needs and giving more funding to local agencies who own most of the federal-aid and other system roads.

· Complete Streets so that transportation projects at every level of government – Federal, State and local – provide appropriate facilities and accommodations to serve pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.


· Tame Motor Vehicle Traffic by ensuring safer motor vehicle operation, removing unsafe drivers from the roads and deploying new technologies to enhance enforcement such as photo speed enforcement and so-called red-light cameras.

· Promote Walking by emphasizing the public health, economic development, and transportation benefits of walking, including more focused attention and greater resource commitments to encourage people of all ages to walk more.

About the Surface Transportation Policy Project

Based in Washington, D.C., the Surface Transportation Policy Project is a diverse, nationwide coalition working to ensure safer communities and smarter transportation choices that enhance the economy, improve public health, promote social equity, and protect the environment. For more information please visit www.transact.org.

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Media contact: Isabel Kaldenbach - Isabel@buckleykaldenbach.com - (703) 979-3076


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