Report Shows Uptick in Pedestrian Deaths; U.S. DOT Creates New Website, Grant Program

Pedestrian fatalities rose for two consecutive years between 2009 and 2011, according to a report this month from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is taking action to prevent what may or may not be a trend from continuing. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx used one of his first press conferences  since taking office to address the NHTSA data and to announce a new grant program and website which could give states and communities the tools they need to save lives.

In 2011, 4,432 pedestrians were killed in traffic incidents, a 3 percent increase from the year before . A single year, or even two years of data does not a trend make but this rise isn’t happening in isolation. We have plenty of other data to analyze in context this potential trend. Americans drove 1 percent fewer miles in 2011 than they did in 2010 meaning that ratio of miles driven to pedestrians killed is just that much higher. During the same time period, the number of total fatalities declined and pedestrians’ share of that total increased.  During  most of the last decade, the percentage of pedestrian deaths relative to total vehicle fatalities has remained relatively stagnant at 11 percent. As total deaths begin to decline after 2007, pedestrian deaths remained stable. This indicates that while we are improving safety for drivers, we are failing to do the same for the walking population. 

Pedestrian Deaths 2002-2011

 

Total Vehicle Fatalities

Pedestrian Vehicle Fatalities

Percent Pedestrian Fatalities per Total

Millions of Miles Traveled

Ped Deaths per Billion Miles Traveled

2002

43005

4851

11

2873612

1.688119

2003

42884

4774

11

2908778

1.641239

2004

42836

4675

11

2982017

1.567731

2005

43510

4892

11

3009218

1.625672

2006

42708

4795

11

3033753

1.580551

2007

41259

4699

11

3049027

1.541147

2008

37423

4414

12

2992705

1.47492

2009

33883

4109

12

2975804

1.380803

2010

32999

4302

13

2985854

1.440794

2011

32367

4432

14

2964720

1.494914

   

Above data collected from: “Traffic Safety Facts 2011 Data: Pedestrians” from the NHTSA and the FHWA Highway Statistics Series.

The DOT is focused on cities. Nearly three quarters of pedestrian fatalities took place in urban settings prompting the Secretary to announce a new $2 million grant program available to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 22 Pedestrian Safety Focus Cities in 15 states. The focus cities, as revised in 2011, were selected by the FHWA if they had more than 20 average annual pedestrian fatalities or a pedestrian fatality rate greater than 2.33 per 100,000 population.

The program is designed to bolster education and enforcement initiatives for pedestrian safety. Streetsblog.org breaks down what the grant money could be used for:

·         A comprehensive education and enforcement activity that supports active infrastructure improvement projects.  For example, having enforcement and education activities in areas surrounding repainted crosswalks or newly-installed mid-block crosswalks.

·         Improved data and analysis of pedestrian crashes to identify trends, high-risk populations and high crash locations.

·         Development and implementation of an education campaign focusing on the high-risk groups identified through crash analysis.

·         Deployment of enforcement operations in high crash locations (corridors and/or intersections).

·         Evaluation of the countermeasures used to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries.

While the education and enforcement campaigns have the potential to save lives, cities and states will also have some new funding for studying the pedestrian death phenomenon which plagues them. This may be an opportunity for state and local governments to collect specific crash data on their population. States have until August 30th to apply.

FHWA Focus Cities

The NHTSA also released a new website focused on education programs for pedestrians and policy makers. The site includes a variety of tip sheets for children and parents and a toolbox of education tools, programs and resources for state highway officials, traffic engineers, law enforcement officers and educators.

Education and enforcement are not the only  ways in which the cities and states can improve pedestrian safety. The NHTSA report points out that 70 percent  of pedestrian fatalities occur when the pedestrian is not at an intersection. Surely some of this is careless pedestrian or driver activity relatively near intersections, but this may also be an issue of an unsafe built environment. In the absence of crosswalks, a pedestrian is more likely to attempt an unsafe crossing. This is when vehicles are traveling the fastest and the chance of killing a pedestrian is highest. Transportation4America declared this kind of infrastructure “Dangerous by Design” in a 2011 report. The report notes important design features that can save lives and examine federal and state programs to achieve those changes. A 2012 report from CSG’s own Sean Slone further details state programs for bike/ped infrastructure.

As noted above, the grantee has a responsibility to educate the public if new infrastructure is built, but the grantee should remember their responsibility to build the infrastructure in the first place. It is prudent for states and communities to consider where busy roads lack crosswalks but include busy places like apartment buildings, transit stops and shopping areas where pedestrians may be tempted to cross rather than find the nearest intersection.

Traffic signals and traffic calming measures can also save lives. Many roads are designed solely for cars, often under the mantra: straight, flat and wide. Drivers follow the cues provided by the road in setting their speed and behavior. Making crosswalks out of a material such as brick demonstrates that the area is to be shared with pedestrians and can help slow traffic in  those areas. This is another example of how the built environment interacts with the user. Safe pedestrian crossings require visibility for all parties involved, slower speeds and a dedicated space. Florida, traditionally plagued with high pedestrian fatalities, shows that state DOTs can lead the way on this issue. Working with Governor Rick Scott the Florida DOT will focus on making infrastructure more pedestrian friendly including new signals at crosswalks and fence improvements to prevent jaywalking. Education and enforcement are important strategies for curbing dangerous crossings and slowing drivers near pedestrians but building a safe environment for pedestrian travel may be the most effective way to change behavior.