These Streets Are Made for Walking

How to restore foot traffic as a way to go

More than 4500 pedestrians (see earlier Commons magazine story) are killed by motor vehicles every year on the streets of America.  This is not an inevitable fact of modern life.  These deaths are preventable, as shown by the dramatic decline of pedestrian  fatalities (as well as bicyclists and motorists) in Sweden after they adopted the Vision Zero approach to traffic safety.

The gravest danger to walkers and bicyclists, as well as motorists, is other motorists who drive recklessly.  According to data collected by the New York City Department of Transportation from 2008-2012,“dangerous driver choices” contribute to pedestrian deaths in 70 percent of cases.  “Dangerous pedestrian choices” is responsible in 30 percent of cases and joint responsibility in 17 percent of cases.

As the old saying goes, speed kills.  Two landmark studies, one from the US and one from the UK, found that pedestrians are killed:

-5 percent of the time when struck by a car traveling 20 mph

-37-45 percent of the time when struck by a car traveling 30 mph

-83-85 percent of the time when struck by a car traveling 40 mph.

In light of these findings, it’s scary to realize that traffic on many if not most American roads travels closer to 40 mph than 20 mph.

“If we could do one switch to make safer streets it would be to reduce car speeds to 20 mph, which would reduce pedestrian fatalities by 90 percent,” says Scott Bricker, Executive Director of the America Walkspedestrian advocacy network.  America Walks also plays a role in Every Body Walk!, a collaborative of citizens, businesses and organizations across many fields convened by the health care non-profit Kaiser Permanente.

This means more than lowering speed limits. Charlie Zegeer, project manager at the University of North Carolina’s authoritative Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) says, “Research shows that lowering a speed limit without other improvements like road design changes or improved police enforcement doesn’t work to slow traffic-- it’s the roadway design that affects the speed.”

Here’s a few of practical steps to slow speeds, deter distracted driving and help make walking a safer, comfortable and enjoyable experience for everyone.  This is where Vision Zero hits the road.

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