Smart Growth America released a study in January about dangerous streets for pedestrians. The study, “Dangerous by Design 2016,” was the 4th edition outlining the pedestrian death epidemic that totaled over 46,000 lives from 2005-2014. According to the report, Americans were 7.2 times more likely to die as a pedestrian than in a natural disaster.
Thankfully, trends in the past few years have encouraged Complete Streets, walkable streets allowing for safer transportation techniques. However, an alarming number of people are clearly still in danger by simply walking as a means for transport. Reports indicate that 2015 showed the largest percent increase in traffic deaths in the U.S. since the 1990s. Smart Growth America considered race and income disparity in its study. The organization found that elderly individuals (65+ years old) are 50 percent more likely to be struck by a moving vehicle than younger individuals. Additionally, the findings suggest that people of color are more likely to be hit by a car as a pedestrian due to decreased funding for proper road construction in lower income communities.
PDI, or Pedestrian Danger Index, is the metric used to examine major metro areas around the United States. Florida tops the list with multiple cities, including Cape Coral, Tampa, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, and Palm Bay; these places have the most dangerous streets in America. Florida’s DOT is well aware of the report findings, and, one imagines, they are working toward keeping pedestrians safer.
Assuming at one point or another we have all found ourselves walking down a busy street in unsafe conditions, we know how uncomfortable it can be. Why should the elderly or people of lower income neighborhoods suffer? Let’s face it; roads built in the past were commonly built with solely one thing in mind: the automobile! The fact of the matter is, whether retrofits or new construction, there is a lot of work to do on streetscapes as designers and planners of our nation’s urban, suburban, and rural communities.
The redesign process begins with public interest and then funding.
We can do a lot of work with design to transform street environments; however, practicing landscape architecture is not the only form of improving our streets. Perhaps we can also do our part, as humans, by taking responsibility for our actions, sticking to the speed limit, putting away our cellular devices, not driving under the influence and paying closer attention to the road. Traveling by public transit is another option one should consider. Fortunately, cars will soon drive themselves. Unfortunately, however, these man-made robotic experiments do not come with an accident-free guarantee.
Dangerous by Design 2016 research shows that pedestrian deaths from 2010 to 2014 increased after commuters started returning to work following the Great Recession. Longer commutes, decreased funding for infrastructural improvements, and the citizens’ increased desire to walk to work, fueled the epidemic. Lots of sidewalks in suburban and rural communities are worn down, defeated, and in some cases non-existent.
In conclusion, designed walkable streets can transform dangerous landscapes by revitalizing the spirit of place. If you ask people about their favorite childhood memory, 90 percent of the responses involve an outdoor experience. In addition to the elderly and people of low income, many children around America suffer from treacherous streets as the neighborhoods they explore daily become their playgrounds. Hopefully, Smart Growth America’s study will nudge the Complete Street Movement along a bit quicker, while opening the public’s eye to a safer, friendlier, and more walkable united nation.
Billy Guarino is a designer in the Laguna Beach studio. Image is courtesy of the San Francisco Bike Coalition. For more information on Dangerous by Design 2016, click here.