Public safety issue at Great Seneca Highway and Orchard Ridge Road featured on Montgomery Community Media.

Pedestrian Dangers Report

A new report, Dangerous by Design, released by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, provides information on pedestrian fatalities and injuries and ranks every state, metro region and county based upon the degree of danger faced by pedestrians. Comparatively, the Washington, DC region is safer for pedestrians than many other regions in the nation, ranking 35 out of the 51 largest metro areas (with 1 being the most dangerous). At the same time, the report found that 843 pedestrians were killed in the region from 2003 to 2012 and the dangers for pedestrians along suburban arterial roads is particularly high.

Pedestrians on streetIn state rankings, Maryland ranked 15th, Virginia 22nd, and DC 49th according the Pedestrian Danger Index based on the share of local commuters who walk to work. This is the best available measure of how many people are likely to be out walking each day. The most dangerous regions tend to be those that grew in the post-war period, mostly through rapid spread of low-density neighborhoods that rely on wider streets with higher speeds to connect homes, shops and schools—roads that tend to be more dangerous for people walking. The report includes an online, interactive map showing the locations where people walking have been fatally struck by the driver of a vehicle.

In 2013, an elementary school principal in Loudoun County was tragically killed trying to cross a four-lane, 35 mph road and in 2012, drivers struck nine children and adults walking to school in Montgomery County. “As more people make the sustainable and healthy choice to leave their cars at home, we are unfortunately seeing more tragic crashes. Decades of car-oriented design has made it hazardous in many of our communities simply to walk to school, work, or shopping,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a local co-releaser of the national report.

Across the Washington, DC region, jurisdictions have been working in recent years to make their streets safer and more welcoming for pedestrians. Scores of communities have begun to redesign roads as “complete streets,” adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes, reducing crossing distances and improving crosswalks. Such design features have helped make walking safe and comfortable for everyone.

In the DC region, a few examples of complete streets include wider sidewalks and “bulbouts” on Georgia Avenue in Petworth to ease crossings, and a redesign of Lawyers Road in Reston that took a four lane road to two lanes plus bike lanes and a middle turn lane.

“For many years, we built wider and wider streets throughout the region that encourage speeding and are incredibly dangerous for pedestrians to navigate. We’re now finally moving towards designs that make it safe for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers – to use our roadways,” said Kelly Blynn, Next Generation of Transit Campaign Manager, for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Continuing to invest resources in making streets safe for all users is key to ending these preventable deaths. 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. According to the report, one of the biggest culprits is the arterial. Rockville Pike or Route 1 are examples of arterial roads that have both local businesses and destinations that attract pedestrians, while also trying to move regional traffic through at high speeds. This type of design is especially dangerous for pedestrians: in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, a majority of pedestrian deaths occurred on high speed arterials.

“If the region is to achieve its goals for creating mixed-use, walkable and transit-oriented centers and corridors in places like Tysons Corner, White Flint, Largo and Route 1, then we must redesign our arterials,” said Schwartz. “Unfortunately, traffic engineers frequently push back against communities, elected officials, and smart growth developers who want to create the walkable neighborhoods so much in demand today.”

“Sadly, older adults, children and minorities are the most at risk while walking, dying in disproportionate numbers,” said Blynn. “We need to take steps now to make our streets safer for all.” According to the report:

From 2003 – 2010 in Virginia, Hispanics suffered an average pedestrian death rate 68 percent higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites, and the average pedestrian death rate for African-Americans was 40% percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites. In addition, while comprising just 11.7 percent of the total population, older adults over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 22.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities. And in Virginia, more than 47 children 15 and younger were killed; pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger.

From 2003 – 2010 in Maryland, Hispanics suffered an average pedestrian death rate 86% percent higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites, and the average pedestrian death rate for African-Americans was 50% percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites. In addition, while comprising just 11.7 percent of the total population, older adults over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 15.6 percent of pedestrian fatalities. And in Maryland, more than 71 children 15 and younger were killed; pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger.

From 2003 – 2010 in DC, Hispanics suffered an average pedestrian death rate 135% percent higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites, and the average pedestrian death rate for African-Americans was 126% percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites. In addition, while comprising just 11.6 percent of the total population, older adults over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 17.4 percent of pedestrian fatalities. And in DC, more than 11 children 15 and younger were killed; pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger.

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.

“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, including expanding Complete Streets practices and following a comprehensive action plans 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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