Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The following guest post was written by Sean Barry with Transportation for America - a national coalition seeking to align our national, state, and local transportation policies with an array of issues like economic opportunity, climate change, energy security, health, housing and community development.
In the last few years, health advocates have increasingly urged Americans to walk, bike and exercise more often, noting regular physical activity is paramount to good health. Unfortunately, a new report released this week by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership reveals that walking in many of our communities is far more dangerous than it should be.
Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods) shows that the level of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. is roughly equivalent to a jumbo jet going down every month. But there is no national sense of urgency about pedestrian safety.
Under current federal transportation law, projects that benefit pedestrians and bicyclists are labeled “enhancements” and attacked by some as luxuries that detract from core road and highway building.
Current transportation policies vastly shortchange people who walk or bike. Less than 1.5 percent of total federal funds are ultimately spent on pedestrian safety, despite walkers comprising 11.8 percent of all traffic deaths and a comparable percentage of all trips. In this decade alone, 43,000 Americans have died preventable deaths while walking or crossing a street in their community. Although members of every demographic group are affected, ethnic minorities are suffering disproportionately, with African-American fatalities 70 percent higher than whites, and Hispanics 62 percent higher.
It should not come as a surprise that our inadequate investment in roads safe for all users adversely affects safety and health. For many Americans, daily physical activity is no longer a part of their daily existence. Seniors, the disabled and low-income Americans who cannot or chose not to drive face limited alternatives. Lower rates of physical activity are linked to rising obesity and pollution from automobiles increases the risks of asthma.
Dangerous by Design ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that measures how safe they are for walking. The report also profiles communities across the country that have successfully stepped up and reversed current trends.
In St. Petersburg, FL, for example, a “Vision 2020” planning process resulted in 13 additional miles of sidewalks and 32 rapid-flashing signals at crosswalks, improving driver-yielding compliance by 83 percent. In Charleston, SC, two-thirds of area residents say they are getting more exercise after the launch of a three-mile pedestrian and bike path. And, the installation of 1,600 speed humps in residential Oakland, CA led to a 50 to 60 percent reduction in the odds of injury or death among children walking.
There is growing movement for action in Congress as well. Last year, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced the Complete Streets Act. This legislation would ensure that new road projects emphasize safety and accessibility for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.
Transportation for America is working to arrange a meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, perhaps as soon as next week. At this meeting, we plan to deliver the message from our hundreds of partner organizations and thousands of supporters across the country that safer streets must be a priority.
Sign our petition today and help us send a strong message to the USDOT!
We hope the release of this report will fuel a greater sense of urgency about pedestrian safety and the need for a more balanced transportation policy. With health care remaining in the headlines, let’s convey to our representatives that making our streets safer is no longer just an “enhancement,” but an essential.