Pedestrian Safety: The National Picture

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Whose light is it, anyway?

A recent story in USA Today talked about the growing national movement for pedestrian and bicyclist safety. The piece included a table that showed the number of pedestrians killed state by state in 2005 (Florida, with 3.24 deaths per 100,000 population, was the worst for pedestrians, while New Hampshire was the safest, with 0.38 per 100,000) and discussed the reasons behind increasing attention to the problem around the country: 

Pedestrian safety has become a bigger issue partly because of efforts that have promoted walking to address a range of issues, from reducing obesity to promoting use of public transit. A total of 4,881 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in 2005, the latest complete year for which statistics are available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's down 13% from 1995 but up 4% from 2004.

"Clearly, it's moving in the wrong direction," says Anne Canby, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, a coalition that encourages walking, biking and the use of public transportation. "We have to be more concerned about safety in general and pedestrian and bike safety in particular."

Almost three-fourths of the 2005 pedestrian deaths occurred in urban areas. Community outrage has helped lead several cities to change the design of some streets, including extending curbs to funnel and slow traffic. Other initiatives include new traffic signals and public-awareness campaigns for drivers and walkers.

The article goes on to discuss the recent rally at City Hall sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, and quotes TA executive director Paul Steely White:

The city still sees its "primary job as keeping traffic moving as fast as possible," says Paul Steely White, executive director of the group. "While they have taken some steps to protect pedestrians, they're not taking those steps quickly or consistently."

In response, a city DOT spokesman who emphasizes what he says is a change in the municipal attitude toward traffic:

City transportation officials say that while 163 pedestrians were killed last year, New York's pedestrian fatality rate dropped about 42% from 1994 to 2004. "Any time someone is injured or killed on city streets, it is of great concern," Ted Timbers, spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation, says in an e-mail.

Timbers says much of the city's transportation planning for decades centered on moving traffic. Now, he adds, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration plans to create neighborhood pedestrian plazas throughout the city, sidewalk space has increased in Times Square and many other safety measures have been implemented.

One move: Pedestrians at 147 locations get the walk signal at least six seconds before cars moving in the same direction get a green light, enabling them to cross before turning vehicles.

Sadly, the last quote in the piece echoes the same kind of thinking that went into the NYC DOT's  "Cars Hurt, Stay Alert" campaign.

"We need to encourage pedestrians to be more careful," says Andy Pendoley, of the advocacy and educational group WalkSanDiego, "and to not take for granted that because they're in the crosswalk they can be so bold as to proceed without any caution."

Photo: Sarah Goodyear