Tribune Print Share Text

Is your city safe to walk in?

The ten most dangerous areas for pedestrians

Created date

March 22nd, 2010
Walking is one of the best ways to stay fit and enjoy the great outdoors. The fact that walking does not require any special equipment, can be done on a variety of terrains, and is very low impact makes it one of the most popular forms of exercise, especially among older Americans. But a recent report shows that walking is not without risks. Dangerous by Design, a report published by the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and Transportation for America, says there is an epidemic of preventable pedestrian deaths, citing more than 76,000 preventable pedestrian deaths over the last 15 years. That statistic is roughly equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every month. The report calls for an increase in federal funds to make America s roads more pedestrian-friendly. Shortly after releasing the report, representatives from the groups that sponsored it met with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, presenting him with both the report and a petition calling for swift action. LaHood recognizes the importance of the issue, saying, The right of way doesn t just belong to cars it belongs to pedestrians and bicyclists as well. The Department of Transportation Safety Council is going to look at this report and work with advocacy groups to ensure our streets are as safe as possible.

Older Americans at greater risk

Safe walkways are important to everyone, but older pedestrians are at particular risk of being injured or killed in an accident. Diminished hearing, vision, or mobility issues can make crossing a busy street treacherous. Older Americans are less likely to survive a collision with a car or truck when it crosses their path and are generally less agile, making it harder for them to get out of the way when a vehicle is veering toward them. In many cases, they may need more time in the crosswalk than the signal allows to get to the other side of the street.

Safe walking

Innovative designs and advanced technology will help make newly constructed walkways safer. However, while the cost of designing safer new walkways is relatively affordable, the cost of retrofitting existing walkways is often prohibitively expensive. Nationwide, less than 1.5% of funds authorized under the federal transportation law have been allocated for projects to improve the safety of walking and bicycling, even though pedestrians comprise 11.8% of all traffic deaths, and trips made on foot account for almost 9% of total trips. State and local spending is almost as bad, with no state spending more than 5% of its transportation funds on pedestrian safety measures. Better-designed roads and sidewalks and stricter laws can help, but ultimately it s up to both drivers and pedestrians to make walking safe. For pedestrians, it s critically important to stay on the sidewalk and cross only at designated crosswalks. Always push the button for the crossing signal at intersections equipped with such devices. This activates the signal to indicate when it is safe to cross the street and, in some cases, it will even extend the amount of time the cars are stopped to ensure that pedestrians can make it all the way across the street before the light changes. Look both ways before stepping off the sidewalk; if possible, try to make eye contact with drivers when crossing busy streets. If stiff joints make it hard to turn your head, neck, or shoulders, you may not see vehicles that are turning or backing up. Recognize your limitations and turn your whole body if necessary (not just your neck) when looking for traffic. Wear bright colors or reflective clothing if you are walking near traffic at night and carry a flashlight. When you are behind the wheel, most importantly, slow down. And before you make that right turn, really stop and check to be sure there isn t a pedestrian approaching who is just outside of your peripheral vision. Be especially careful when backing up. The Pedestrian and Bike Information Center website ( has useful safety information, including a Walkability Checklist that can help you assess how safe your neighborhood is for walking.