On December 2, 2004, the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) made available Mean Streets 2004, a study that concluded that walking remains our most dangerous mode of transportation. Further, it finds that several areas of the country are getting even more dangerous. The Washington based policy advocacy group has been issuing status reports of trends in pedestrian safety for almost a decade. This most recent report is a mix of older findings with new research.
Mean Streets’ findings include four significant facts. First, walking is by far the most dangerous mode of travel per mile. The fatality rate, using 2001 data, per 100 million miles travel was 20.1. By contrast, passenger cars and trucks rate was only 1.3. Transit is the safest at 0.75 per 100 million miles. Second, in 2003, 4,827 Americans (11.3 percent of all traffic fatalities) died while walking down the street, and 70,000 pedestrians were injured in traffic crashes. Over the ten-year period 1994-2003, 51,989 pedestrians have died on U.S. streets. Third, senior citizens, African-American and Latino pedestrians suffer a fatality rate well in excess of the population at large. Fourth, more than half of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas grew more dangerous.
STPP reports on major metropolitan areas progress (or lack thereof) based on their “Pedestrian Danger Index” or PDI. The PDI is simply the rate of pedestrian deaths relative to the number of people who walk in a given metro area. The PDI scores ranked the metropolitan areas and show the most dangerous metropolitan areas for walking in 2003/2003 were Orlando FL, Tampa (no. 1), West Palm Beach, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Memphis, Atlanta, Greensboro (NC), Houston, Jacksonville (FL), and Phoenix.
Who Improved and Who Got Worse?
STPP calculated the PDI’s for an earlier period (1994-5) and compared scores with a more recent period (2002-3). In some areas, the % change was in a positive direction. Which metropolitan areas made the greatest improvements? Using the % change of the PDI for the two periods, the large metro areas that made the most improvement were: Salt Lake City, Portland (OR), Austin, San Francisco, Hartford and Phoenix.
However, the study shows that in the majority of urban areas, the percent change in scores got worse. The large metropolitan areas with the greatest decline in pedestrian safety, where the streets became “meaner,” were: Orlando (FL), Richmond (VA), Memphis, Denver, Grand Rapids, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, West Palm Beach, and Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater. The report notes that while Pittsburgh incurred a large increase in the PDI, its base score is still very low, and so Pittsburgh doesn’t quite belong with other urban areas with relatively high percent increases in their PDI.
Orlando is not only the most dangerous metropolitan area for pedestrians, but also has the largest percent increase in the PDI: 118%. Other metropolitan areas with worsening pedestrian death rates over the last ten years include: Richmond (VA) with a more than 70 percent increase in deaths and Memphis (TN) with a rate change of 42.6 percent. Using data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the report notes the over-representation of ethnic and racial minorities. Children are also more likely to become fatalities than adult pedestrians.
The STPP report laments the fact that few federal dollars are being spent on pedestrian safety in many of the metro areas most in need of improvement. STPP cites that in four of the top ten areas with the greatest declines in pedestrian safety (Columbus, Denver, Memphis, and West Palm Beach), state spending of federal funds on creating safer walking environments declined over the period. The problem appears to be the inclination of state Departments of Transportation to build wide, high-speed arterials running through the towns and neighborhoods. The report notes: “Unfortunately, these are the same roads which are most deadly for pedestrians.”