Salt Lake City is a relatively safe place to walk, ranking 33rd out of 51 major metro areas in a report issued by the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America. But more can be done to improve pedestrian safety in the city and in Utah.
How was this ranking calculated? In a nutshell, the most dangerous places are those where the likelihood of someone walking is killed in an accident. Even though people are walking more to get to work or simply for fun, the statistics on pedestrian accidents are frightening. In addition to the 47,000 pedestrians killed each year in this country, approximately 676,000 were injured, meaning someone on foot was hit by a car about every eight minutes.
And in Utah, the number of pedestrian fatalities for older people per 100,000 people was the eighth worst in the country. Even though Utahns 65 and over comprise just 8.8 percent of the total population, they account for over 20 percent of such fatalities in the state. And the baby boomer generation reaching age 65 plus is expected to double this population by 2030. So what can be done?
Utah is one of a handful of states that has adopted guidelines from national transportation experts, but improvements are still needed. We all know that Salt Lake City’s wide streets make crossing in time for the light to change a hazard, and that smaller towns may not have sidewalks or appropriate traffic controls for safe crossing. Reducing speed limits is a major factor in making our streets safer, as are curb ramps to accommodate people with disabilities. Refuge islands that allow partial street crossing would also help create a safer walking environment, wider sidewalks would allow people to walk off the road, and clearer crossings at busy intersections would decrease confusion.
But part of the problem is whether the state and federal government makes pedestrian safety a priority. Better planning is needed to take into account walking, biking, and other non-motorized forms of transportation to make the roads safe. It’s not fair or safe to make walkers sprint across streets to avoid traffic.
According to AARP Vice-President Nancy LeaMond:
“We know how to design safe streets – research shows that well-designed intersections, sidewalks, bike lanes and other features can significantly reduce injuries, deaths and automobile crashes.
The federal government sets the tone for a national approach to safety.
And we believe that Congress should address this critical issue by passing the Safe Streets Act as it renews the transportation law.
This bi-partisan legislation would require all states and local planning organizations to adopt safe streets policies for federally funded projects within two years.
It promotes smart planning and design and would establish basic guidelines for states and communities to ensure that any new construction is done right the first time — saving time and money.
The Safe Streets Act does not require any new money, nor does it require transportation agencies to use a particular roadway design — and it doesn’t tell highway engineers how to build individual projects.
It simply calls on the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as state and local transportation agencies that use federal funds, to adopt a policy that considers the safety of all users when they build new streets and roads or substantially rebuild existing ones.
The Safe Streets Act won’t fix all our roadway safety problems overnight.
But over time, our streets will be designed to be safer — and more people will be able to cross the street without crossing their fingers first.”