Home > Announcement, Complete Streets, Engineering Design, Representing, Safety Issues, Traffic Calming, Walking > What To Expect When Roads Are Dangerous by Design

What To Expect When Roads Are Dangerous by Design

Dangerous by Design

Nationally, the number of people killed while walking, which includes people in wheelchairs, was over 47,000 over the last 10 years; that is close to 5,000 people per year.  67% of those deaths occurred on roads that received federal money, where innovation and people focused amenities can often get tied up in bureaucratic guidelines that favor motorized traffic as a priority over other roadway users and it is only recently that DOTs began to seriously contemplate protection of neighborhoods through designs that reduce noise and pollution.

These are the basic findings in Transportation for America’s latest report: Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods) that can be downloaded but also includes an online interactive map of pedestrian fatalities for specific localities.

As far as Traverse City’s corner of the world, crashes resulting in a fatality for people on foot or wheel chair are lower in the Grand Traverse region than the rest of the state. In the 10 year span of the report, 1,468 people were killed in Michigan, of which 8 were in Grand Traverse County. Nearly a death a year is nothing to celebrate, but comparatively, this is possibly a good sign in terms of our local streets where the majority of walking occurs.

Screen-grab of T4America’s interactive: ped fatalities within 60 miles of TC between ’00-’09

The Type Of Road Matters

Nationally, 60% of all urban pedestrian fatalities occurred on roads with speed limits 40 and above; GT County’s share of such cases exceeds the national average. In the county 100% of pedestrian fatalities occur on those types of roads. The fatalities closest to Traverse City specifically occurred on Grand View Parkway and Munson Ave.’s Miracle Mile (RE)–all locations with high levels of people on foot conflicting with designs that encourage high speeds in areas where people want to cross. Crosswalks remain infrequent and perceived dangerous in these places.

At T4America’s online report you can download’s Michigan’s 2011 report (PDF available) and use their map to explore other locations. I suspect, NW Lower Michigan is comparatively fortunate due to low population numbers on or near large arterials. If you type in Ann Arbor’s 60 mile radius fatality map, you can see how much room for improvement Michigan as a state has.

Michigan’s Pedestrian Danger Index ranks 19th among the 50 states, placing it near the bottom. When specifically looking at the percentages of the population over 65 years old involved in fatalities, Michigan’s rank then improves slightly to 24th, but still nothing to be proud of; 12.4% of the population over 65 represents 18.6% of the pedestrian fatalities. This is one reason AARP is one of the leading champions of complete streets policies.

Michigan also has some glaring disparities when we look at different socio-economic and ethnic demographics. Both the African-American and Hispanic populations show higher rates of fatalities as percent of the population, as shown in the graph above. It’s worth noting, Michigan’s disproportionate fatality rate amongst African-American population is well above the national rate and reflects the poor infrastructure investment in those communities predominately African-American as well as with disproportionate rates of low-income individuals. Infrastructure investment is a social justice issue and reflected in Michigan’s primary metro area ranking as the 12th most dangerous place to go for walk in the nation (DetNews).

The Need For Speed Over Safety

Being able to see the Google street-view on T4America’s interactive map is instructive. Where there are fatalities, there tends to clearly be a road that is visually dangerous by design, meaning, that it is prioritized for maximum width, lanes and speed of motorized vehicles and cleared of obstacles like crosswalks, bike lanes, street trees and, often, the small investment of a sidewalk. This is what many of us are working to change on our own arterials and countless others are campaigning for both locally and at the national level.

The T4America studies points to a few main factors in the number of pedestrian deaths:

  • Practice of wider roads and lanes: studies have shown 12 ft lanes in urban areas have no benefit compared to 10-ft lanes in capacity or safety.
  • Designing for Speed:  Less than 1% of ped fatalities occurred on a roadway with a known speed limit of 20-mph.
  • Incomplete Streets: Infrastructure for people makes a huge difference. Wide sidewalks on both sides of the road, clearly marked and frequent cross-walks and bike lanes make the streets safer for ALL users.

We should note, these statistics only measure the worse case scenarios that result in someone killed while walking. Walkability of a location is largely measured by our experiences and the many close calls and/or comfort levels of walking. As well, data on people injured while walking is unreliable as much of it goes unreported or isn’t collected. GT County’s South Airport, for example, is certainly one of those main roads with high speeds where we’d expect a serious pedestrian crash–we are fortunate we haven’t had one in the last 10 years.

If you have an interest in numbers, take a look and let us know what you see.

  1. May 25, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Thanks for sharing info and stats. I’ve cycle a little in New York on holiday and never felt particularly safe. It seemed in America car is King, though it’s not much better in UK

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