New Pedestrian Injury Rankings Report Reveals America’s Deadliest Cities For Pedestrians
About 4,700 pedestrians are killed each year in the U.S., according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. While the total number of car accident fatalities has fallen by a third since 2003, the number of pedestrian fatalities has risen in the five most recent years for which data are available.
“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety, to take nearly 5,000 lives a year,” says Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America.
Florida is home to the top four cities, with six Southern cities rounding out the top 10 in the pedestrian injury rankings report.
1. Orlando, FL
2. Tampa, FL
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Miami, FL
Florida is the riskiest state according to the recent pedestrian injury rankings survey. The four deadliest cities for pedestrians lie within Florida’s borders: Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Miami.
Semoran Boulevard in Orlando, lined with gas stations, strip malls and bus stops, is a good example of what’s wrong with the roads in this busy Florida city. It’s the most dangerous street in a city that ranks No. 1 in the nation for pedestrian accidents. There have been 28 crashes involving pedestrians and six deaths on this stretch of road over the past seven years.
“So much of Florida has been built up so quickly in that era of the automobile-oriented design; it’s this sort of the boomer phenomenon,” said David Goldberg, communications director for the organization. “The tendency there has been to build the big wide arterials; you have these long superblocks and you can get up to a good speed.”
There is something to be said for the fact that Floridians spend more months walking outside compared to people in northern states. Yet the primary risk factors for pedestrian hazards relate more to the types of roads and communities than to the state’s weather.
Orlando’s road system was largely built in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, after Disney and other theme parks turned this city into a family entertainment destination. It was a time when pedestrians were an afterthought for road planners. Improvements have been seen and recommendations have been made. But don’t stop looking both ways before you cross.
5. Memphis, TN
Metropolitan Memphis is the nation’s fifth-most-dangerous place for pedestrians, according to the new pedestrian injury rankings study. Director Roger Millar says many of the pedestrian deaths and injuries are happening at intersections that are dangerous by design.
“They’ve been engineered and operated for speeding traffic with little or no provision for the safety of people walking or biking or using public transit,” he explains.
Overall, Tennessee ranked as the 11th most dangerous state for pedestrians, with 800 deaths in the decade from 2003 to 2012.
6. Birmingham, AL
The pedestrian injury rankings study ranks the six-county Birmingham-Hoover metro area as the sixth most dangerous for pedestrians out of the nation’s 51 largest urban centers. Birmingham-Hoover had 148 pedestrian fatalities between 2003 and 2012. The metro area includes Bibb, Blount, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby and Walker counties. Statewide, 723 pedestrians were killed in Alabama between 2003 and 2012, accounting for about 7 percent of all traffic fatalities. Alabama’s overall pedestrian danger index is 125.2 — the second-highest among the 50 states, according to the report.
7. Houston, TX
Houston was No. 7 among large metropolitan areas in the pedestrian injury rankings. Texas ranked as the 10th most dangerous state for walking commuters, with nearly 4,200 pedestrian deaths between 2003 and 2012. That’s roughly 10 percent of such deaths nationally during that time period.
Jay Crossley, who does research and program development for the nonprofit organization Houston Tomorrow, said he’s not surprised at the results.
There are two key explanations for the danger of Houston streets, said Crossley. One is the design of city streets, which he said prioritizes speed over safety. The other is that the region has chosen to spend on toll roads over safer urban design, he said.
“Our money is focused on building toll roads in the middle of nowhere.” said Crossley “Streets are still designed for speed rather than safety. A perfect example is Memorial Park, where vehicles often go 50 to 60 mph on Memorial Drive, a main thoroughfare that cuts through the park.”
Although Mayor Annise Parker issued an executive order in November instructing city employees to try to make streets safer for all users, it doesn’t require it, Crossley said. Crossley did add that Houston has made some recent strides. In October, Mayor Annise Parker announced an executive order establishing a citywide Complete Streets policy aimed at protecting pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists and public transit riders.
8. Atlanta, GA
According to the pedestrian injury rankings, Georgia roads have become safer for drivers in the last decade but they’re just as deadly for walkers. The number of Georgia pedestrians annually killed has risen since 2001, and they have become a larger share of the state’s total traffic fatalities. Georgia’s pedestrian death rate is 25 percent higher than the national rate of 1.38 deaths per 100,000 people. The national rate has improved 19 percent since 2001 while Georgia’s didn’t budge.
Advocates for pedestrian safety say the most dangerous areas for walkers are arterial roads in the inner suburbs ringing downtown Atlanta. Densely populated apartment complexes there house low-income residents who rely on public transportation. Often, those residents have to navigate four- to six-lane roads with posted speed limits of 45 mph to reach bus stops and shops. Buford Highway is notorious for unsafe passages, but there are other problem corridors scattered around the metro region, including Tara Boulevard, Riverdale Road, Campbellton Road, Covington Highway, Flat Shoals Road, Cobb Parkway and Austell Road.
Georgia DOT leads the effort in implementing the state’s bicycle and pedestrian safety action plan, which is coordinated with the Governor’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan. The Georgia DOT’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Program incorporates a broad range of programs and initiatives throughout the state, offering technical assistance, engineering and planning guidance, public information, and educational materials and programs for cyclists, walkers, and visitors in Georgia.
Still, many say that not enough is being done to accommodate pedestrians who have to deal with high-speed automotive traffic, said David Goldberg of the Washington-based advocacy group Transportation for America.
“You’re lucky to get a sidewalk, you very infrequently see well-marked crosswalks, and you have very long blocks,” said Goldberg, a Decatur resident from 1995 to 2011. “Motorists have gotten accustomed to thinking the roadway belongs to them. That width [of road] sends a signal to the motorist that you’re supposed to drive at interstate speeds.”
9. Phoenix, AZ
According to the pedestrian injury rankings report, over the decade from 2003 – 2012, 840 Phoenix metro area residents were killed while walking. Since the pedestrian injury rankings report findings, Phoenix City Council members have been working to draft a “complete streets” ordinance, which would include more bike and pedestrian friendly zones on the car-dominated streets, officials say. City officials added that the plan includes widening sidewalks, protected bike lanes and shade structures and will encourage more pedestrian traffic.
10. Charlotte, NC
A string of incidents this year and the recent pedestrian injury rankings report brought renewed attention to pedestrian safety. City officials spent $50 million improving access to the rail stations all along the 9.6-mile Lynx Blue Line in Charlotte, NC. But major improvements for pedestrians or cyclists in fast-growing Charlotte South End remain on the to-do list. An Observer analysis of N.C. Department of Transportation data identified 12 hot spots for pedestrian-involved accidents. The highest concentration of pedestrian-involved accidents happens uptown. Most other problem areas are in low-income communities, where residents are more reliant on walking and public transportation. Fourteen people have been killed walking or bicycling since January, at a pace that could equal last year’s total of 24.
So why do cities in the South and Southwest fare so poorly? At the Washington Post, Emily Badger observes that, generally speaking, these are car-dependent cities that grew up “in the age of the automobile.” When they were booming in the post-World War II years, urban planners didn’t give much thought to pedestrian safety. Contrast that with some of the most-safe cities, including Boston (the safest at No. 50), New York (48), and Chicago (43), which were laid out before the car became king. The top five safest, in order, are Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle and New York (tie), and San Francisco.