Dangerous By Design: A nationwide look at pedestrian danger

The sidewalk on the south side of Memorial Drive near Douglas Street. Drivers routinely exceed the 35 mph speed limit. When the sidewalk is impassable (often), then pedestrians are forced to step into oncoming traffic.

ATLANTA _ A recent report by a national organization that advocates for more walkable communities finds that 46,149 people in the US were killed by drivers while walking between 2005 and 2014. Imagine about 11 jumbo jets full of people crashing each year.

The “Dangerous By Design” report is issued by Smart Growth America, a national organization dedicated to research and advocacy for more walkable communities. It looks at the 104 largest metro areas in the country are ranked according to their “Pedestrian Danger Index,” or PDI. The PDI is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.

Example of area along Memorial Drive lacking safe pedestrian crossings

The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA metro area avoids the dubious honor of breaking the Top 10. However, the area still does not rank particularly well, coming in at number 26. There were 819 pedestrian deaths from 2005-2014 in the Atlanta metro area. That’s 1.50 deaths per 100,000 people. The PDI for the region came in at 107.2, right between Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas, and Raleigh, North Carolina. The state of Georgia ranked 10th highest on the index, between Texas and North Carolina.

Another troubling indicator is who is disproportionately affected in these crashes. “Native Americans and African Americans, as well as adults 65 years and older, are all at much higher risk of being struck and killed by a car while walking than people in other demographics,” the report states. Furthermore, it’s related to populations who need to walk and ride transit, often in areas with poor pedestrian infrastructure like Memorial Drive.

Source: “Dangerous By Design” report, 2016.


So why does this matter for Memorial Drive? It’s helpful to remember that this is not an isolated issue that we’re dealing with alone. It gives us the national context for a local tragedy, like the death of Barbara Crawford on March 20.

From the report:

“We must use every tool available to improve safety for pedestrians. Ending drunk or distracted driving, enforcing speed limits, and reminding pedestrians to cross streets safely are all important parts of this effort. So too is better, safer street design. The way we design, plan for, and build streets is an enormous part of both this problem and its solution.

Streets without sidewalks or pedestrian crossings, with wide lanes that encourage people to drive fast are simply designed to be dangerous for people walking. People walk along these roads despite the clear safety risk. This is not user error. Rather, it is a sign that these streets are failing to adequately meet the needs of everyone in a community.”