Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taking your life in your . . . feet?

Transportation For America has just released a new report, "Dangerous By Design 2011: Solving The Epidemic Of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths" (the link is to a [large, slow-loading] Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format). In its news release about the report, the organization makes several interesting points.

In the last decade, from 2000 through 2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed in the United States, the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing roughly every month. On top of that, more than 688,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, a number equivalent to a pedestrian being struck by a car or truck every 7 minutes.

Despite the magnitude of these avoidable tragedies, little public attention – and even less in public resources – has been committed to reducing pedestrian deaths and injuries in the United States. On the contrary, transportation agencies typically prioritize speeding traffic over the safety of people on foot or other vulnerable road users.

Nationwide, pedestrians account for nearly 12 percent of total traffic deaths. But state departments of transportation have largely ignored pedestrian safety from a budgetary perspective, allocating only about 1.5 percent of available federal funds to projects that retrofit dangerous roads or create safe alternatives.

. . .

Children, older adults, and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in this figure, but people of all ages and all walks of life have been struck down in the simple act of walking. These deaths typically are labeled “accidents,” and attributed to error on the part of motorist or pedestrian. In fact, however, the majority of these deaths share a common thread: they occurred along “arterial” roadways that were dangerous by design, streets engineered for speeding traffic with little or no provision for people on foot, in wheelchairs or on bicycles.

There is a growing recognition that Americans must increase physical activity, including walking or bicycling, if we are to nudge the needle on ballooning health care costs, reducing obesity and overweight, cardiovascular and other chronic illnesses linked to a lack of exercise. Over the last decade, a growing number of communities have gotten the message, and begun to retrofit their more dangerous roadways to be safer for people on foot, on bicycles and in cars.

Still, most Americans continue to live in places where walking is risky business for their health and safety, where roads are designed solely to move speeding traffic and where pedestrians are viewed as an obstacle.

This has left us with a dilemma: Public health officials encourage Americans of all ages to walk and bike more to stem the costly and deadly obesity epidemic – yet many of our streets are simply not safe. Americans get to pick their poison: less exercise and poor health, or walking on roads where more than 47,000 people have died in the last ten years.

There's more at the link.

The organization has highlighted something that's puzzled me about US roads ever since I came here in 1997. I've never understood why so little attention is paid to sidewalks and pedestrian access to roads in this country. Overseas, pavements are factored into almost every urban road project, so that it's really unusual to find a road without pedestrian access of some kind, separated from the flow of vehicle traffic. Here, not so much . . .

I agree with Transportation for America. This needs to be addressed - and it needn't be expensive to do so. Adding a sidewalk on one or (preferably) both sides of a road doesn't add more than a small amount to the cost of the project. However, I guess it's a chicken-and-egg situation. If people want to walk, they'll put pressure on the authorities to install sidewalks. On the other hand, authorities won't want to 'waste money' on sidewalks if only a few people want to use them. We need to achieve a 'critical mass' of sufficient pedestrians wanting them in order to encourage the authorities to build more sidewalks.

Meanwhile, on our nightly walks, Miss D. and I will have to continue to dodge the cars. At least we don't have to cross this road in Iran!



Anonymous said...

Since cars and petrol are half the cost as in the UK, most Americans over 17 own a car and drive it on every occasion. I've seen perfectly healthy 20-somethings drive a half mile to the health spa then spend an hour working up a sweat on machines only to drive the half mile back to their flat.

So why spend taxpayer monies for footpaths that rarely get used?

Speaking of footpaths. Did you ever see an American park a car with two-wheels on a footpath? Nope, not like the UK or Ireland.

DaddyBear said...

We were talking about this the other day. When I was growing up, sidewalks were standard when a road was built, but it's become a novelty. Not sure when that happened, and I miss them.

Anonymous said...

I ran into this the other day, although in another form. When I was growing up, the neighborhood I grew up in had grids of roads, and getting from point A to point B offered you a choice of many different paths. Some were multi or single lane major roads without sidewalks (county roads, state highways, local routes, although plenty of these had sidewalks too) others were lower flow roads with side walks and other pedestrian / cyclist friendly features. I could walk from one end of town to the other without spending 5 minutes off a sidewalk.

Recently I was looking to start cycling to work. 7 miles, not exactly a long ride. But I work in the next town over which is full of "new development". Every single road that isn't a major artery is a dead end or cul de sac. There is no residential path through this town that would allow a pedestrian or cyclist to avoid the horrible major roadways. It drives me crazy.

bluntobject said...

I'm given to understand that in some residential neighbourhoods, the cost of maintaining sidewalks is factored into local property taxes. Suburban homeowners who drive to and from most of the places they go don't see the need to pay higher taxes for something they won't use, so these suburbs don't have sidewalks.

On a more practical note, I'm gobsmacked by the number of peds who walk along the shoulder with their backs towards traffic.

skidmark said...

It's not difficult to play Frogger when the vehicles are driven by folks who realize that blood will clash with the color of the paint on the front of their vehicle. I grew up in a big metropolitain city and have travelled around most of the world's cities - it's the folks who hesitate and keep backing up that get splattered, not the ones that go when there is an opening. I would rather cross that street than any of the ones in Paris or Rome!

Bunch of sisies - sidewalks are where cars end up when you force them to dodge you instead of working with them as you cross the street!

stay safe.

Old NFO said...

Meh... growing up in the deep South, we didn't HAVE sidewalks anywhere but in 'new' subdivisions! :-)

trailbee said...

Early years in suburban Oberursel-no sidewalks. Teen years in Outremont-sidewalks except off the beaten path. Adult working years -Cerritos - sidewalks EVERYWHERE!; Senior years in the foothills: sidewalks? What's that? :) I live on a narrow dirt road, hoping it stays that way for another ten years.