In many southeastern metro areas, the great weather may entice people to walk, but infrastructure to keep them safe hasn’t kept up. What about the rest of the U.S.?
Road safety has become a flashpoint in cities across the U.S., with the issue gaining new urgency during the height of the pandemic.
But the trend of pedestrian fatalities appears to be getting worse, as can be seen in Smart Growth America’s chart below.
The number of pedestrian fatalities has been on the rise since 2009 but 2020 saw a notable increase – and estimates for 2021 suggest the biggest rise in pedestrian fatalities since the numbers started trending up.
In short, bad news for pedestrian safety at a time when the positive impacts of walking for health and environmental outlook have never been more obvious.
Right now, though, states and metros have a huge opportunity to prioritize pedestrian safety. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) puts a big pot of money to safety-first infrastructure and planning investments, including the recently released funding opportunity for the Safe Streets for All program.
Smart Growth America’s latest report “Dangerous by Design” ranks metro areas and states with the highest and lowest fatality rate, and contextualizes the data using StreetLight’s pedestrian index.
The findings show that metro areas with the highest pedestrian walk to work activity pre-pandemic were safer in 2020 – and saw fewer deaths per capita – than areas with lower pedestrian walk to work activity.
Overwhelmingly metros that tended to be less deadly were concentrated in the northeast and midwest. Conversely, the southeast saw a greater concentration of deadly metros.
StreetLight’s data shows that walking increased everywhere during the pandemic, but those increases only led to more deaths in certain metro areas. — Smart Growth America
Below is Smart Growth America’s ranking of the top 50 most deadly metros, alongside StreetLight’s data on how average daily walking activity shifted between 2019-2020.
Notably, an increase in walking happened in metros throughout the U.S., but did not necessarily correspond to an equivalent rise in pedestrian fatalities. The fatality rates went up most on average in metro areas that were already more deadly before the pandemic.
As pedestrian and biking fatalities have been in the spotlight, city and state transportation authorities have been under heightened pressure to address these concerns. From Vision Zero to Slow Streets programs, many have adopted plans or infrastructure investments to improve pedestrian safety.
The good news: Data shows the tools can work. Smart Growth America noted in their report that in NYC, where the DOT has made changes to improve street safety, fatalities are down 34%.
As cities and states look to deploy funds to improve active transportation infrastructure, data to understand where crashes happen and the traffic patterns that cause unsafe streets are critical. For examples and best practices for designing safe streets, check out Smart Growth America’s report and see the full rankings for metros and states.