Dangerous by Design 2019: Roads aren’t getting safer for pedestrians

Last week, Smart Growth America released the latest edition of Dangerous by Design, a biennial report examining trends in pedestrian fatalities. The report looks at changes in the occurrence of pedestrian deaths nationwide overall and ranks states and metropolitan regions according to how dangerous they are for pedestrians. At the same time, a national committee of traffic engineers called on their colleagues to consider pedestrian and bicyclist safety when setting speed limits, and a researcher reports on why pedestrians break the rules, blaming poor roadway design.

Reopening of Quincy Station MBTA gate provides area households with access to hundreds of thousands of additional jobs

After sitting shuttered for more than 30 years, the city of Quincy, MA recently reopened a pedestrian gate that allows residents of the town’s Penn’s Hill neighborhood to connect directly to the Quincy Adams MBTA station. Previous to the gate reopening, residents were forced to walk more than a mile to cross the Red Line train tracks and access the station. We measured how much this improved the accessibility of the adjacent neighborhoods.

A systemic approach to pedestrian safety analysis

The rise in pedestrian fatalities over the last decade has alarmed DOTs and local planning organizations. However, the methodologies used to identify locations for improvements have continued to use the “hot spot” approach, where agencies focus on specific locations with historically high crash incidents, making this approach reactive rather than proactive. NCHRP recently released a guidebook that outlines a systemic approach for proactively identifying high risk zones and prioritizing countermeasures.

Safety climate, not just pedestrian infrastructure, affects walking behavior

To get people on foot adhering to traffic rules, according to one new study, road designers likely need to consider not only the immediate walking environment (sidewalks and crossings) but also the entire traffic safety climate of an area. According to the study, pedestrians tend to break the rules and make mistakes more often when they perceive city traffic as less “safe” and less “harmonious.”

SUVs are killing us

As noted in a previous SSTI post, the rise of SUVs and other light trucks as personal vehicles has been identified as a contributing factor to the startling rise in pedestrian fatalities since 2009. Researchers, auto makers, and regulatory agencies have known for years about this increased risk to pedestrians, but disagree about how to mitigate the dangers. In an in-depth but very readable article, the Detroit Free Press and USA Today outlined the consequences of increasing popularity of light trucks as personal vehicles and looked at the industry and government responses, both within the U.S. and in Europe.

Phoenix struggles with its pedestrian safety record

Phoenix has an exceptionally high rate of pedestrian fatalities compared to the rest of the country. It looked like the city was ready to tackle this problem, with a city staff naming 11 intersections and neighborhoods to study that had poor and unsafe pedestrian conditions. However, the citizen committee named to guide passage of a design guide to make the streets safer has become so frustrated with the lack of progress that they have quit en masse. What have other cities done when they have found themselves with a mounting pedestrian fatality rate and a reputation as a dangerous place to walk?

What’s causing the increase in pedestrian deaths?

A new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls out a variety of factors responsible for the shocking surge in pedestrian fatalities between 2009 and 2016—up 46 percent and the most deaths since 1990. They called out the increased use of SUVs as personal vehicles, lack of convenient and safe crossings, poor roadway lighting and inadequate headlights, excessive speed, and a lack of speed enforcement. Pedestrian fatalities have risen much faster than overall traffic deaths, which only increased by 11 percent during the same period. Pedestrians now account for 16 percent of all traffic deaths.

Federally funded data as a speed-management tool

Another pedestrian fatality happened about two miles from SSTI Central when a car traveling over 100 mph hit a couple walking on the sidewalk along an urban boulevard. It is just one of some 40,000 traffic fatalities the United States is likely to see this year. SSTI has been interested in whether data now being provided to state DOTs in order to measure delay—the National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS)—might be applied to address speeding danger as well.

Hit-and-run crashes are on the rise

Hit-and–run fatal crashes are increasing in the United States, and most victims are pedestrians and bicyclists. We don’t entirely know why these crashes are increasing, because studies are limited, and data regarding the characteristics of drivers and victims is not extensive. Many hit-and-run drivers get away. Witnesses may not be present. But after analyzing federal data, however, researchers at the AAA Foundation have identified a trend and searched the literature for some potential contributing factors.