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Dangerous by design: Best and worst cities for pedestrians

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/20/14 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Walking

In a just-released national ranking of 51 major U.S. cities, the Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor area ranks 10th safest for pedestrians. National organization, Smart Growth America (SGA), analyzes pedestrian deaths as a percentage of those who walk to work using Census data available from 2003-2012.

Once again, Floridian cities Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami top the list as the most dangerous for pedestrians. But, a large population of seniors—one of the biggest at-risk groups for being struck by a vehicle while crossing the road—is likely a contributing factor. African-Americans and children were also identified as at-risk groups.

(SGA also reported that Florida has adopted a number of measures to improve pedestrian safety since its 2011 report found the state to be the most dangerous).

Back to basics<br />West Jefferson, NC made some key changes to its main street that encourages walking and slower car speeds and spurred a renaissance. Image: Smart Growth AmericaDangerous by design<br />Pedestrian Danger Index relative to walking rates by race and age, 2009. Image: Smart Growth America

Cleveland may be only relatively pedestrian friendly when compared to the most dangerous cities in the Sunbelt and South where major, “arterial” roads encourage cars to go faster than 30 mph. An astonishing 52% of the 45,284 pedestrian deaths in the last decade happened on American roads that “often are built wide, fast, and flat to serve the purpose of quick automobile travel,” SGA writes.

The report, "Dangerous by Design 2014" brings attention to road design and if it encourages or blunts speeding. The safest cities for pedestrians are Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Portland.

Compared to Cleveland, Minneapolis has the same percentage of people who walk to work (2.1%) but half the number of pedestrian fatalities. Ohio also ranks high (48) among states. But, that could be because the state's with lower priority for pedestrians in their transportation plans have lead to a historic decline in walking (and subsequent rise in obesity).

Vehicle speed is a major factor in all types of crashes and has especially serious consequences for people on foot. Where the posted speed limit was recorded, 61.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities were on roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or higher. This figure compares to just 9 percent of fatalities that occurred on roads with speed limits less than 30 mph.

The answer lies in engaging the rule makers, including Federal Highway Administration and states’ Department of Transportation in a new dialogue, SGA affirms.

A safe city for pedestrians is the goal in coastal cities where bringing traffic deaths to zero is trending. San Francisco and New York this year adopted Vision Zero, traffic safety efforts modeled after those in Sweden and The Netherlands. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing for changes in the New York legislature to allow the city more control in the administration of traffic safety measures such as speed reduction.

In Boston, personal injury attorney John Sheehan started the Vision Zero Auto Accident Prevention Scholarship to encourage young adults to consider the tangible benefits of safer driving. The firm hopes that the scholarship will open a dialogue with the City of Boston to implement Vision Zero policies.

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