Walking in the U.S. comes with a combination of safety risks and health benefits. That tradeoff has a lot to do with where you live and what demographic group you fall in, according to several new studies. Overall, the most disadvantaged groups—people of color and those in lower income brackets—often face the greatest risks while getting the fewest benefits.
As projects ramp up, DOT staff are more important than ever. For many at the federal and state level, that means building capacity to administer federal funds; but for those on the ground, it means protecting workers from unsafe road conditions. Although traffic may increase, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of working crews—defined as vulnerable road users by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration—should be at the forefront of any project.
About 75% of all roads in the United States, around 3 million miles, are in rural areas and are vital for transporting goods and connecting communities. The likelihood that a car crash will result in death is higher in rural America, even with less than one fifth of the population living in these areas. 85,002 people were killed on rural roads between 2016 and 2020, and according to a new study published by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the risk of dying in a car crash was 62% higher on a rural road compared to an urban road for trips of the same length.
People experiencing homelessness often congregate on land owned and managed by state DOTs, especially near overpasses and on other unused rights of way. Unsanctioned encampments, however, can pose risks to DOT staff, public infrastructure, and to the individuals living in them. That often puts the impetus on DOTs to act, but DOTs don’t always have the means to ensure those people and their property are well taken care of. A new source of funding in Washington State aims at changing that.
Infrastructure planning processes have long been forced to rely on expensive and time-consuming methods of data gathering or, in some cases, anecdotal evidence and hypothetical arguments from both project supporters and opponents. Fortunately, thanks to the increased availability of location data, cities are beginning to add important quantitative measures to their decision-making process, including the opportunity to analyze the conditions before and after a project is installed.
Federal crash data released just this past April confirms what earlier reports had already suggested: 2020 was the deadliest year for walking in the past three decades, marking a 50 percent increase in just 10 years. A new report analyzing the data calls out the most dangerous cities and states across the country, while leveraging emerging data sources to understand how increased walking may have contributed to pedestrian deaths during the unique pandemic conditions of 2020.
In California, during the stay-at-home period of COVID-19, people drove less and the total number of crashes went down; but the frequency of fatal crashes increased due to drivers driving faster on open roads. New research leverages pandemic-era speed, volume, and crash data in that state to show that in an urban setting adding lanes to relieve congestion and decrease the number of fender benders can make room for risky behavior and higher speeds that increase the severity of crashes.
Many agencies have renewed their focus on making transportation systems more equitable for all travelers, or they are being pressured to do so by advocates. Travelers who are Black, Latino, Native, or Asian can feel unsafe in public spaces due to exposure to law enforcement, or the hateful or racist behaviors of others. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought awareness of this situation to the fore. The ability to stay active during the pandemic—especially by walking—contributed to better physical and mental health. For those who did not have access, or felt unsafe outside, and could not stay active, outcomes were not so rosy. New pandemic-era research from Melbourne, Australia, shows that Asians may have walked less in order to avoid racist confrontations and because they didn’t have access to good places to walk.
Since early in the highway era, road designers have tended to favor wide, rounded corners, and dedicated slip lanes that let drivers turn through an intersection without having to slow down quite as much. As many engineers and transportation advocates know, however, those wide turning radii can create issues for people trying to cross on foot. They create longer crossing distances, exposing people to traffic longer, and they increase the chance of a pedestrian crash by 50 percent or more, according to one new study.
Even as the number of people killed by drivers in the U.S. continues to climb—due to what many attribute to pandemic-related reckless driving—studies keep rolling out that point to predictable patterns in where those crashes are likely to occur and who is most likely to be impacted. Two of the most recent studies come from opposite corners of the U.S., well before the pandemic began.