a new report notes that streets in North America are becoming deadlier for pedestrians. Research by Smart growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition reveals that more than 6,500 people were hit and killed by cars as they walked in 2020.
That works out to an average of 18 people a day – and a deadly increase of 4.5% from 2019.
To make matters worse, the load is not equally distributed among the pedestrians.
Low-income residents, older adults and people of color are more likely to be beaten and killed while walking.
Black pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed than white, non-Hispanic pedestrians. Native Americans ran risks nearly three times greater.
Unfortunately, these statistics may underestimate the toll as hundreds of road deaths are reported every year without a race.
Pedestrian Noneighborhoods are not designed equal
These are the ten deadliest subways:
- Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Florida
- Albuquerque, NM
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida
- Charleston-North Charleston, SC
- Jacksonville, Florida
- Bakersfield CA
- Orlando Kissimmee Sanford, Florida
- Stockton, CA
- Fresno, California
Unfortunately, it appears that these streets do not serve black and native Americans. And urban planning plays a role in these deaths.
Black and Native Americans are more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods. These neighborhoods traditionally have fewer sidewalks and parks and more roads. This leads to higher speeds and more traffic, resulting in a higher number of pedestrian deaths.
Furthermore, people with a low income more often live outside urban city centers, where housing is cheaper. This means excluding the safest and most walkable parts of a city, such as downtown and tourist areas.
These inner-city areas – unlike the outer city – are most likely to benefit from lobbying by retailer associations to improve walkability or smart city pilots that increase safety, such as smart traffic lights and street lighting. Compare this to outdoor areas that may not even have sidewalks to begin with.
And while there may have been fewer motorists on the roads in 2020 due to the pandemic, the roads became more deadly.
According to the report, road design preferences are for speed over safety. As roads became less congested during the pandemic, drivers’ speeds increased. Driving faster increases the chance of a pedestrian being killed rather than just injured.
The report was based on over a decade of data of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), who also noted that the impact of the pandemic on auto sales correlates with higher pedestrian deaths.
Newer vehicles generally have better collision avoidance technology than older models and have pedestrian detection as standard.
However, the decline in new vehicle sales in 2020 slowed down safer vehicle integration on the road. As a result, pedestrians were less protected than they could have been.
The data also showed that the number of deaths from passenger cars increased by 36% in 2021. In particular, the number of fatalities caused by SUVs rose by as much as 76%, which is worrying.
The way forward is by investing in safer car-free cities
According to the GSHA, intentional road design can reduce the risk of pedestrian accidents. For example:
- Elevated pedestrian crossings (incremental speed tables spanning the entire carriageway width) can reduce pedestrian crashes by 45%.
- Pedestrian refuge islands provide a safe breaking point and can reduce pedestrian accidents by 56%.
- Street lighting can help motorists see pedestrians more quickly. Overhead lighting outside intersections can reduce crashes by 23%. The advantage is even greater at intersections: a reduction of 27%.
- Sidewalks significantly improve pedestrian safety, as most fatal pedestrian accidents occur in locations without sidewalks.
- Painted zebra crossings, murals at intersections and other artistic treatments of the road surface can improve safety by helping drivers slow down.
In addition to efforts to address disproportionate traffic risks, there is also a national effort in North America to address the greatest racial disparities in road design at the local level.
Reconnecting communities by tackling racial segregation in urban planning
At the end of June, funding applications for the Pilot Program Reconnecting Communitiesfunded by the president Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. $1 billion in funding will help reconnect communities previously cut off from economic opportunity by transportation infrastructure.
United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg detailed that the program aims to restore historic planning decisions that have built road infrastructure such as highways “directly through the heart of vibrant, populated communities:
Sometimes to reinforce segregation. Sometimes because the people there had less resistance. And sometimes as part of a direct effort to replace or eliminate black neighborhoods.
This inherently racist infrastructure not only led to more pedestrian fatalities, but also to more air pollution near where people live. It can affect property values and deny workers access to higher paying jobs because of the long, expensive commute.
In response, the Reconnecting Communities pilot will fund local efforts such as high-quality public transportation, removal of infrastructure, walkways and overpasses, covers and covers, linear parks and pathways, redesign of zebra crossings and roadways, full street refurbishments and major street revitalization.
Vehicle manufacturers are well aware of the need to build safer cars. But we also need justice in urban planning.
At least now there is hard data mapping places where pedestrians are most at risk, and concrete opportunities for solutions led by the communities most affected. And that’s how we build safer roads.