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To Get to the Other Side

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Despite mom’s advice to look both ways before crossing the street, American pedestrians are 36 times more likely to be in danger while walking than driving, a recently released study said.

In fact, many Americans aren’t even getting to the street by foot in the first place, as walking has declined 42 percent over the past 20 years. The most striking statistic released in the “Mean Streets 2000" report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), conducted in 1997-1998, is while walking has decreased, the percentage of overweight Americans has increased at an equal rate. Thirty-five percent of Americans and 13.6 percent of children are obese.

Some other statistics from the survey included:

Students in South Carolina are four times more likely to walk to schools that were built before 1983 than newer schools. Children within walking distance end up driving or busing to school because of unsafe pedestrian conditions. A similar trend is prevalent across the country.

Women with school-aged children make more car trips each day than any other population group.

Of the 5,291 pedestrians killed in the United States in 1998, 59 percent died at locations where no crosswalk was available.

The problem with a lack in pedestrian activity in recent years has been due to a decrease in the amount of accessible sidewalks and crosswalks, which discourages walking. Communities build from the center-line out, as is described by the report, and by the time they get to the sidewalk area, they are out of sufficient room and end up building no sidewalk at all.

The report also ranked the nation’s largest metro areas to find which were the most dangerous locations. Tampa, Fla., was the most at-risk city in the nation, followed by Atlanta; Miami; New Orleans; Phoenix; Dallas; Orlando, Jacksonville, and West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Memphis, Tenn.

Individual states also were ranked according to the fatality rate of children. South Carolina, Mississippi, Utah, North Carolina and Alabama had the highest rates for children.

The statistics don’t come as much of a surprise when looking at the amount that states now spend on pedestrian safety. States spend an average of merely 55 cents per person of their federal transportation funds on pedestrian projects, which is less than 1 percent of their total federal transportation dollars. On the other hand, average highway spending was $72 per person.

“What we’re seeing is that sprawling development causes safety problems for those who walk, and health problems for those who don’t,” STPP Executive Director Roy Kienitz said in an STPP press release. “We need to build our streets and our communities so walking is both safe and convenient.”

The STPP recommended four national policies to improve pedestrian safety.

Spend on pedestrian safety in proportion to pedestrian deaths. The percentage of safety funds devoted to pedestrian safety should be in an equal proportion to the percentage of pedestrian traffic fatalities. Federal dollars that aren’t restricted to highway use should go toward safe and convenient pedestrian facilities.

Retrofit streets with traffic calming. Curb bulb-outs and traffic circles slow down automobiles in key places and reclaim streets from children, residents, and others on foot or bicycle.

Design new streets and neighborhoods for walking. Entice people to walk by putting residents within reasonable distance of shops, offices, schools and transit shops with a street/path network that allows direct routes between them.

Collect more information on pedestrian safety. Since little information is available concerning pedestrian safety issues, the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics should design research programs to learn more about how to improve pedestrian safety. Locally, citizens already are performing “walkability audits” to assess pedestrian danger.

© 2000 Health Resources Publishing