New study shows Walking While Black has deadly consequences

People of Color, Older Adults, and Low-Income Neighborhoods Experience Higher Fatality Rates than others, according to new report

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The deadliest metro areas and states for pedestrians have been identified in a new report entitled Dangerous by Design issued by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Over the past decade (2008-2017), the number of people struck and killed by drivers nationwide while walking increased 35 percent, even as overall traffic fatalities have been trending downward. In fact, 2016 and 2017, the most recent years with available data, were the two highest years for pedestrian deaths since 1990. During the ten-year period, 49,340 people were hit and killed by drivers, an equivalent of 13 people a day.

The twenty states with the highest Pedestrian Danger Index ratings are Florida, Alabama, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, Nevada, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, California, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, and Kentucky.

Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition (a program of Smart Growth America) explained, “We are killing an airliner’s worth of people walking each and every month—and these numbers are only increasing. This is a wake-up call for all of us. No one should have to risk their life just to cross the street, yet that’s exactly what thousands of people have to do just to get around each day. The good news is that we have the tools and know-how to fix this, but until we truly prioritize the safety of the most vulnerable people who use our streets, we will continue to see this preventable epidemic continue.”

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Many places still lack the most basic safe infrastructure for walking. For example, crosswalks, if they do exist at all, are often spaced so far apart as to be impractical, or don’t provide enough time for older adults to safely cross. Unnecessarily wide lanes encourage high speeds—a major factor in the likelihood of surviving a collision—and many streets are designed with wide turning lanes that allow cars to make right turns through crosswalks at high speeds.

The report also finds that certain groups of people bear a disproportionate share of this burden including black/African American people, older adults, people walking in low-income communities, and American Indian/ Alaska Native people.

From 2008-2017, black people were 72% more likely to have been hit and killed by a driver than people of other races. American Indians were three times as likely to be killed. Lower-income neighborhoods saw a higher share of pedestrian deaths.

More dangerous roads are located near communities of color and implicit bias may play a role in the increased danger. Research by the University of Nevada has shown that drivers are significantly more likely to yield to a white pedestrian in a crosswalk than to a black/African American pedestrian.

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AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond, stated, “AARP is committed to partnering with policymakers and stakeholders to create communities that are safe and accessible for people of all ages. The unfortunate reality is that older pedestrians are at much higher risk of being struck and killed by cars. For adults age 50 and up, the relative danger is more than a third higher than for the population as a whole, and the risk is doubled for those 75 and older.”

The report calls on states, localities, and the federal government to make improving pedestrian safety an urgent priority and identifies 10 actions that can save lives. Smart Growth America is asking the public to sign a petition for elected officials, available at

The authors urge Congress to adopt a strong, federal Complete Streets policy that requires state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to plan for all people who use the street, including the most vulnerable users. Federal transportation funding that is up for reauthorization next year will have a major impact on whether this public health epidemic is addressed or allowed to continue unabated.

Carolyn Grawi was hit in a crosswalk by an SUV driver who was turning right on red in Pensacola, Florida last month just after leaving a meeting with the mayor’s transition team about making the city more walkable and bikeable. She is the executive director of the Center for Independent Living Disability Resource Center in Pensacola.

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“Being struck by this driver was one of the scariest experiences of my life,” Grawi said. “I did everything right (backed up by a police report), yet I still ended up in the emergency room with a concussion and staples in my head. In all my 30+ years of advocating for making our streets safer for people with disabilities, I never thought I would become a survivor myself, illustrating how, when streets are built to prioritize cars and people are just a tertiary concern, small mistakes can become deadly for people walking. We can and should do better for the safety of everyone.”

Billy Hattaway, the director of Transportation, City of Orlando said, “It is critically important we reverse this trend. The only acceptable number of pedestrian deaths is zero and the city is doing everything in its power to achieve this goal.”

The report’s “Pedestrian Danger Index” calculates how deadly it is for people to walk in a state or metropolitan area based on the number of people struck and killed by drivers while walking, controlling for the number of people that live in that state or metro area and the number of people that walk to work.

People can visit and type in their zip code to see where pedestrian nearby fatalities have occurred.

Source: Smart Growth America and National Complete Streets Coalition

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