complete streets pictureReport finds pedestrians disproportionately killed and injured due to poor street design

by Diana Mask

The greater Phoenix metro area is among the most dangerous communities in the nation for pedestrians, ranking 9th most dangerous out of the 51 largest metro areas, a new report released by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, said.

Over the decade from 2003 – 2012, 840 Phoenix metro area residents were killed while walking. The report, Dangerous by Design 2014, ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The report found that the majority of those deaths likely could have been prevented with safer street design.

In addition, the report presents data on pedestrian fatalities and injuries in every U.S. metro area, as well as state and county assessments and an online, interactive map showing the locations where pedestrian fatalities have occurred.

The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that are dangerous by design —engineered and operated for speeding traffic with little to no provision for the safety of people walking, biking or using public transit. Sadly, older adults, children and minorities are the most at risk while walking, dying in disproportionate numbers.

In Arizona from 2003 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white pedestrian fatality rate was 1.96. The rate for Hispanic people of any race was 2.89; for black people and African Americans, 2.43. In addition, while comprising just 13.2 percent of the total population, older adults over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 14.9 percent of pedestrian fatalities.

And in Arizona, more than 80 children 15 and younger were killed; pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger.

Nationally, in 2012, pedestrians accounted for 14 percent of all traffic deaths, up six percent from 2011 and representing a five-year high.

Pedestrian safety is often perceived as a strictly local issue but, for decades, federal dollars have been invested in thousands of miles of state and local roads in the heart of communities. In fact, 68 percent of all pedestrian fatalities over the past decade occurred on federal-aid roads — roads that follow federal guidelines and are eligible to receive federal funds.

In recent years, scores of communities have begun to redesign roads as “complete streets” that function well for all kinds of travelers. They add sidewalks and bicycle lanes, reduce crossing distances and improve crosswalks to make walking safe and comfortable for all users. By making these changes, the report finds these deaths can be prevented.

“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; 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. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of Complete Streets policies to improve safety and comfort for people walking. 

While the federal government sets the tone for a national approach to safety, states are ultimately responsible for protecting their residents and visitors and reducing the number of people who are killed or seriously injured while walking. State governments and agencies can take a number of actions to improve pedestrian safety, starting with adopting a strong Complete Streets policy and following a comprehensive action plan to ensure the streets are planned and designed for the safety and comfort of people walking.

To view the full report, please click here.

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­­­­­About The National Complete Streets Coalition

The National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, seeks to fundamentally transform the look, feel and function of the roads and streets in our community, by changing the way most roads are planned, designed and constructed. Complete Streets policies direct transportation planners and engineers to consistently plan and design streets with all users in mind.

About Smart Growth America

Smart Growth America is the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring better development to more communities nationwide. From providing more sidewalks to ensuring more homes are built near public transportation or that productive farms remain a part of our communities, smart growth helps make sure people across the nation can live in great neighborhoods.