31 States Became More Dangerous for Pedestrians in 2016: Report

By Madi Alexander

Fort Myers, Fla., was the most dangerous metropolitan area for pedestrians last year, according to a new report on national pedestrian safety released by Smart Growth America.

The report’s release came just a day before Elaine Chao’s confirmation hearing to become Transportation secretary. Chao, a former Labor secretary under President George W. Bush, offered few details on what kinds of infrastructure investments would be made by the incoming administration.

Nine Florida cities are included among the 20 most dangerous metropolitan areas in 2016. The Sunshine state ranks first among the 50 states plus D.C. for pedestrian danger. D.C. comes in at 49 on the list—only Alaska (50) and Vermont (51) are safer for pedestrians.

Measuring Hazards

Smart Growth America uses the pedestrian danger index (PDI) to determine what cities and states are most hazardous for foot traffic. The PDI formula accounts for pedestrian fatalities, total population and the percentage of commuters in a given area who walk to work.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia saw their PDI rise between 2014 and 2016, meaning they became more dangerous for pedestrian travel. South Carolina, which ranks as the seventh-most dangerous state for pedestrians, has a pedestrian danger index of 106.5. New Hampshire’s PDI comes in at 22.2, making the Granite State the ninth-safest state for people walking.

Beth Osborne, senior policy adviser at Transportation for America, said she hopes pedestrian transit will be factored into the new administration’s infrastructure plan. Smart Growth America is a project of Transportation for America, a nonprofit organization that advocates for smart, sustainable transportation design.

“This notion that modes can be invested in separately is really antiquated,” she said. “The idea that you can fund these things separately when they’re are on the exact same piece of infrastructure is so out of date.”

Osborne said roads and bridges are typically built to serve vehicular transit, rather than factoring in other types of travel, like walking or biking.

“It’s not just that pedestrians are an afterthought,” she said. “They’re normally not a thought at all.”

President-elect Donald Trump made a $1 trillion infrastructure plan a pillar of his campaign, though little is known about what that plan entails and where the money will come from. Osborne, a former deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy at the Department of Transportation, said investing in safe, walkable infrastructure will be key for economic growth.

“If you want a vibrant area with small businesses, you have to have pedestrians,” she said. “Any place that’s investing in small business is going to be investing in walkability because those go hand-in-hand.”

Osborne said a responsible way for the Trump administration to improve local infrastructure would be to ensure that money is given directly to cities and towns, rather than funneled through state DOTs.

Aging Population

The growing population of older Americans and their transportation needs must be addressed by designers and engineers, according to the report.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that there will be about 98 million people age 65 or older by 2060. There were about 40.3 million people age 65 and older in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

The national pedestrian danger index for all ages falls at 18.15. But for people 75 and older, that number jumps to 42.52—more than double the total national score.

“Older adults are often less mobile, may have greater difficulty seeing or hearing, and are more likely to use an assistive device,” the report reads. “Pedestrian infrastructure is frequently not designed to accommodate these impairments.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Madi Alexander in Washington at malexander@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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