All over the country, cities are implementing new street design and traffic calming measures to make neighborhoods safer and more accessible for all who use them. This is an effort to reverse some of the negative consequences of policies that for decades have prioritized cars above the people who drive them…
A 2014 report revealed that across the nation, a person was hit by a car about every 8 minutes between 2003 and 2012. Smart Growth America which conducted the study, calls streets that are engineered to move vehicular traffic with little accommodation for people on foot, bikes, or wheelchairs, “dangerous by design.” Children and seniors in particular are the most vulnerable users of our streets. And in the event of a crash, pedestrians are ten times more likely to die than an occupant of motor vehicle.
Excessive speed, too few or unsafe pedestrian crossings; auto lanes that are too wide; a lack of sidewalks and street trees – all of these things can impact safety and our willingness to walk.
Besides the obvious safety reasons, designing streets with a focus on pedestrian safety can bring plenty of other benefits.
Healthy bodies. Americans walk, bike and use mass transit the least of anyone in the world. This is having a dire impact on our health and the public cost of treating medical issues related to obesity. This spring, Governor Cuomo declared that obesity in our state has reached “epidemic” levels. It turns out that people who live in walkable neighborhoods weigh 6-10 pounds less on average than those who live in an areas designed mainly for car travel.
Stronger communities. Walkable communities foster social connections that can improve the quality of life and levels of happiness among residents. Studies show that communities offering easy and convenient access to public transit and cultural and leisure activities have happier residents. And for every 10 minutes a person spends commuting daily by car, he or she spends 10% less time engaging in community activities. When surveyed, people who feel like their communities are safe to walk around in at night, clean and beautiful are more likely to report being happy.
Cleaner environment. CO2 emissions continue to increase in metro areas. According to the Database of Road Transportation Emissions, urban metro areas were responsible for 80% of the increase in vehicle CO2 emissions since 1980, and 63% in 2012. We cannot hope to reduce emissions unless we provide more convenient and viable alternatives to driving. Assuming a pedestrian didn’t have a bean burrito for lunch, walking produces zero emissions.
Creating safer streets for pedestrians would surely encourage more of us to walk, bike, and use mass transit. But equally as important, reducing the potential for collisions on our roadways would also be a good thing for those of us who drive.
The bottom line is whether we drive, ride a bike, or use public transit, at some point we are all pedestrians. Safer streets benefit all of us – regardless of age, income, or preferred mode of travel.