Pedestrian Danger Index: Virginia middle of the pack

economic-forecast-headerA new report, Dangerous by Design, released today by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, provides information on pedestrian fatalities and injuries and ranks every state, metro region and county based upon the degree of danger faced by pedestrians.

In state rankings, Virginia ranked 22nd out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  However, according to regional data, the Richmond region, at 19th, was comparatively more dangerous for pedestrians that the Washington, DC region (35th) and Hampton Roads (36th) out of the 51 largest metropolitan regions.

Rankings were based on the Pedestrian Danger Index measured by the share of local commuters who walk to work. This is the best available measure of how many people are likely to be out walking each day. The most dangerous regions tend to be those that grew in the post-war period, mostly through rapid spread of low-density neighborhoods that rely on wider streets with higher speeds to connect homes, shops and schools—roads that tend to be more dangerous for people walking. The report includes an online, interactive map showing the locations where people walking have been fatally struck by the driver of a vehicle.

In one tragic example in 2013, an elementary school principal in Loudoun County was killed trying to cross a four-lane, 35 mph road. “As more people make the sustainable and healthy choice to leave their cars at home, we are unfortunately seeing more tragic crashes. Decades of car-oriented design has made it hazardous in many of our communities simply to walk to school, work, or shopping,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a local co-releaser of the national report.

In cities, towns, and some older suburbs across Virginia, jurisdictions have been working in recent years to make their streets safer and more welcoming for pedestrians. Scores of communities have begun to redesign roads as “complete streets,” adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes, reducing crossing distances and improving crosswalks. Such design features have helped make walking safe and comfortable for everyone.

One example in Fairfax County is Lawyers Road in Reston where a four lane road was converted to two lanes plus bike lanes and a middle turn lane.

“For many years, we built wider and wider streets throughout the region that encourage speeding and are incredibly dangerous for pedestrians to navigate. We’re now finally moving towards designs that make it safe for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers – to use our roadways,” said Brianne Mullen, Executive Director for the Partnership for Smarter Growth in Richmond.

Continuing to invest resources in making streets safe for all users is key to ending these preventable deaths. The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that are dangerous by design —engineered and operated for speeding traffic with little to no provision for the safety of people walking, biking or using public transit. According to the report, one of the biggest culprits is the arterial.  Little Creek Road in Norfolk, Broad Street in Henrico County, and  Route 1 in Fairfax County are examples of the many arterial roads in Virginia that have both local businesses and destinations that attract pedestrians, while also trying to move regional traffic through at high speeds. This type of design is especially dangerous for pedestrians: in Virginia and other states, a majority of pedestrian deaths occurred on high speed arterials.

“Walkable communities are much in demand in Virginia based on the revival of our cities and towns,” said Schwartz. “Unfortunately, many traffic engineers push back against communities, elected officials, and smart growth developers who want to create the walkable neighborhoods so much in demand today. The good news is the VDOT has a “complete streets” policy, as do a number of local jurisdictions, so it is our hope that VDOT and local transportation planners were team up to make more of our arterials and streets safer for pedestrians.”

“Sadly, older adults, children and minorities are the most at risk while walking, dying in disproportionate numbers,” said Mullen.  “We need to take steps now to make our streets safer for all.”

According to the report, from 2003 – 2010 in Virginia, Hispanics suffered an average pedestrian death rate 68 percent higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites, and the average pedestrian death rate for African-Americans was 40% percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites.  In addition, while comprising just 11.7 percent of the total population, older adults over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 22.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities.  And in Virginia, more than 4 children 15 and younger were killed; pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger.

Pedestrian safety is often perceived as a strictly local issue but, for decades, federal dollars have been invested in thousands of miles of state and local roads in the heart of communities. In fact, 68 percent of all pedestrian fatalities over the past decade occurred on federal-aid roadsroads that follow federal guidelines and are eligible to receive federal funds.

“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; a number that increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Roger Millar, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice.  State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of Complete Streets policies to improve safety and comfort for people walking.”

While the federal government sets the tone for a national approach to safety, states are ultimately responsible for protecting their residents and visitors and reducing the number of people who are killed or seriously injured while walking. State governments and agencies can take a number of actions to improve pedestrian safety, including expanding Complete Streets practices and following a comprehensive action plans to ensure the streets are planned and designed for the safety and comfort of people walking.

To view the full report, click here.



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