Many pedestrian deaths are preventable with safer design and better planning. Photo by Cheryl Cort.

San Antonio is among the most dangerous communities in the nation for pedestrians, ranking 18 most dangerous out of the 51 largest metro areas, according to a new report released by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America.

Over the decade from 2003 – 2012, 373 San Antonio residents were killed while walking. In all, 4,192 people died while walking in Texas.  The report, Dangerous by Design 2014, ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The report found that the majority of those deaths likely could have been prevented with safer street design.

Cover image_Smart Growth America pedestrian report dangerous-by-design-2014
Click to download report.

“Older persons account for one in every five pedestrian fatalities and have the greatest fatality rate of any population group,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond.  “America’s state, federal and community leaders should focus on making our streets safer – which will benefit everyone, including the growing number of older Americans.”

In addition, the report presents data on pedestrian fatalities and injuries in every U.S. metro area, as well as state and county assessments and an online, interactive map showing the locations where pedestrian fatalities have occurred.

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. Sadly, older adults, children and minorities are the most at risk while walking, dying in disproportionate numbers.

“This unenviable record of pedestrian deaths and injuries points to a need to design and maintain roads that are safe for everyone.  Any one of us can fall victim and we hope that by releasing this study, we will begin to take the necessary steps to mitigate this danger,” said Bob Jackson, AARP Texas State Director.  “After all, we’re not just talking numbers here we’re talking family, friends, and neighbors… young and old.”

From 2003 – 2010 in Texas, Hispanics suffered an average pedestrian death rate of 2.3 percent higher than the 2.01 rate for non-Hispanic whites, and the average pedestrian death rate for African-Americans was .71 percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites.

From the National Complete Streets Coalition's report, Dangerous by Design 2014.
From the National Complete Streets Coalition’s report, Dangerous by Design 2014.

In addition, while comprising just 3.19 percent of the total population, older adults over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 3.12 percent of pedestrian fatalities.  And in Texas, more than 350 children 15 and younger were killed; pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger.

Nationally, in 2012, pedestrians accounted for 14 percent of all traffic deaths, up six percent from 2011 and representing a five-year high.

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 roads — roads that follow federal guidelines and are eligible to receive federal funds.

“Unfortunately, older adults, children and minorities are most likely to be killed and injured in excessive numbers because streets are not designed with everyone’s safety in mind,” Jackson said. “These deaths are preventable through policy, design, and practice.”

In recent years, scores of communities have begun to redesign roads as “complete streets” that function well for all kinds of travelers. They add sidewalks and bicycle lanes, reduce crossing distances and improve crosswalks to make walking safe and comfortable for all users. By making these changes, the report finds these deaths can be prevented.

“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.”

The federal government sets the tone for a national approach to safety and Congress can address this critical issue by passing the Safe Streets Act as it renews the transportation law. States are then 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, starting with adopting a strong Complete Streets policy and following a comprehensive action plan to ensure the streets are planned and designed for the safety and comfort of people walking.

View the full report at www.smartgrowthamerica.org.

*Many pedestrian deaths are preventable with safer design and better planning. Photo by Cheryl Cort.

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Juanita Jiménez-Soto

Juanita Jiménez-Soto of AARP Texas is a veteran TV broadcast and multimedia journalist. She has more than 6 years of online content production and management experience, and nearly 20 years of experience...