More than 47,000 people were killed while walking in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012, at a rate that has been rising in the last few years, according to a report by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of advocacy group Smart Growth America.
According to the report, Dangerous by Design 2014, the majority of those deaths might have been prevented with safer street design.
The report also ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. No California cities are in the top ten for most dangerous.
Between 2003 and 2012, 6,798 people were killed while walking in California, which is 19.0 percent of the 35,829 traffic-related fatalities in the state during that time. California ranks 17th in the list of most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Walking fatalities include 446 children under 16 and 1,592 adults aged 65 or older.
More than sixty percent of pedestrians who died while walking in California were killed on arterial roads, which are eligible to receive federal funding for construction or improvement, with federal design guidance or oversight. Arterial roads are commonly designed and operated to maximize the speed of car traffic and not for pedestrian safety, even though they often connect where people want and need to walk.
A more sobering number for California is the rate of pedestrian fatalities among people age 65 and older. While this age group makes up 10.9 percent of the state’s population, it represents 24.1 percent of pedestrian fatalities from 2003–2010 and older pedestrians died at a rate of 5.0 per 100,000 residents in California, compared to 1.94 per 100,000 for residents under age 65. California ranks 2nd nationally for fatalities among pedestrians 65 and older.
“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety, to take nearly 5,000 lives a year [across the U.S.] a number that increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Roger Millar, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice.”
The report found that more than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, equivalent to a pedestrian being struck by a car or truck every eight minutes and that rate increases significantly for more vulnerable populations such as older adults, children and people of color because they are more likely to not have access to a car and need to walk for transportation.
“More and more Americans are choosing communities that are walkable and accessible for pedestrians, children and older Americans, but that shouldn’t be a luxury,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President and CEO of American Society of Landscape Architects. “Simple and affordable additions or retrofits to traffic signals, pedestrian islands and sidewalks can make a huge difference in safety and protection.”
Recommendations from the National Complete Streets Coalition include:
• Update design policies and standards.
• Increase the available funding and maximize the use of
existing federal programs for walking and bicycling projects.
• Give local cities and towns more control over their own speed limits.
• Encourage collaboration across transportation, public health, and law enforcement agencies.