The total number of traffic deaths on U.S. roads might have finally leveled off following a concerning pandemic-related surge, according to early estimates. For people walking, however, the alarming rise in deaths for over a decade is not showing signs of slowing.
Critics argue that car-free streets do not reduce overall traffic. Several new studies counter these claims and illustrate the benefits of creating areas that put people first.
The goal of investing substantially in public transportation infrastructure and complementary transit oriented development (TOD) is to create positive outcomes for communities, including reducing carbon emissions, increasing access to jobs, and reducing reliance on personal vehicles. Two new studies highlight additional impacts of these investments; transit infrastructure leading to increased levels of physical activity and TOD residents forgoing driving for non-commute trips.
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.
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.
There is no doubt that Americans love big vehicles. In 2010 just under 53 percent of estimated new vehicle sales were made up of trucks and SUVs. That number has jumped to 78.5 percent in 2021 according to JD Power. Unfortunately, the rate of pedestrian fatalities has also risen during that time frame. Pedestrian deaths have increased by 46 percent in the last decade, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, with over 6,500 pedestrians killed in 2020 alone. A new study provides one explanation for why these two trends may be connected.
The Seattle DOT, in seeking to improve pedestrian mobility, is installing marked crosswalks in areas with anticipated demand, which is an important shift away from the conventional warrant-based system. The final form that these installations take—paint alone, or paint with enhancements such as medians or flashing beacons—will depend on the location, and ultimately still be a matter of engineering judgment and available funding.
The death of a well-known cyclist in Phoenix, Arizona, persuaded the city DOT to scrap changes it had proposed for an essential local street, in favor of protected bike lanes. As the Phoenix New Times reported, the death of a cyclist and downtown ambassador in central Phoenix galvanized supporters to call for protected bike lanes in the area of the crash. The city Street Transportation Department moved away from installing lanes shared by drivers and bicyclists, to painted, buffered bicycle lanes, and, on some blocks, fully protected bike lanes.
With consistent growth in most urbanized areas around the world, changes to the built environment to accommodate multimodal travel will become one of our most important adaptations. A recent study from Melbourne, Australia, of pedestrian flows over five years found that built environmental changes accounted for 50-60% of the increase in foot traffic in the downtown region.
Transportation professionals who spend more time behind the wheel tend to believe distracted walking plays an overstated role in pedestrian deaths, according to a new Rutgers study. This belief can steer professionals toward trying to correct pedestrian behavior, rather than focusing on the change that would reduce pedestrian deaths most: lowering vehicle speeds.