Greater City Providence

“Dangerous by Design” Pedestrians in America

Photo (cc) Brian’sLens

Transportation For America released a report today on pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. ranking the top 52 metro areas over 1 million (Providence ranked 11th best). The results are not pretty:

In the last 15 years, more than 76,000 Americans have been killed while crossing or walking along a street in their community. More than 43,000 Americans – including 3,906 children under 16 – have been killed this decade alone. This is the equivalent of a jumbo jet going down roughly every month, yet it receives nothing like the kind of attention that would surely follow such a disaster.

While our automobile-centric post-war environment is highly dangerous to people on foot or bikes, doctors are telling us that we need to get out of our cars and ambulate more, or our sedentary lifestyle will kill us. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The rankings are based on the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) which takes into account the number of pedestrians so that cities with a high number of people who walk, are not automatically weighed higher; more pedestrians equals more pedestrian deaths does not equate to a higher pedestrian risk ranking.

Orlando tops the list because of its high pedestrian fatality rate of 2.9 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents, despite a very low proportion of residents walking to work, only 1.3 percent. In other words, the few people who do walk in Orlando face a relatively high risk of being killed by traffic.

The Providence Metropolitan Area (which includes the entire state of Rhode Island and Bristol County, Massachusetts) has 3.3% of it’s population commuting to work on foot and 1.25 pedestrian death per 100,000 residents, bringing us in at 11th safest metropolitan area (in New England, Hartford is 8th and Boston is 2nd). Though we rank well, we should of course strive to be even better (come on, we can’t let Hartford out rank us!). Transportation For America outlines the following ways to move towards safer streets:

Traffic calming and street design. Traffic calming includes a host of engineering techniques used to physically alter road design for the purpose of slowing traffic and improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. Beyond simply installing sidewalks, these improvements enhance safety through a focus on intersections with features such as pedestrian refuge medians, better road geometry, and signals that give pedestrians a “head start” when crossing roads. Depending on the type of measure implemented and speed reductions achieved, traffic calming has reduced collisions by 20 to 70 percent.

Complete streets. Where traffic calming seeks to improve safety by reducing traffic speeds, Complete Streets policies ensure that future road projects consistently take into account the needs of all users, of all ages and abilities, particularly pedestrians and bicyclists. Complete Streets designs vary from place to place, but they might feature sidewalks, bicycle paths, comfortable bus stops, median islands, frequent crosswalks and pedestrian signals. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently endorsed the adoption of local and statewide Complete Streets policies as a strategy for improving safety and increasing physical activity among children and adults.

Safe Routes to School programs. Safe Routes to School programs take a comprehensive approach to improving safety around schools for children walking and bicycling. The program funds engineering upgrades like sidewalks and crosswalks, improved traffic enforcement and bicycle and pedestrian safety education. The intent is to address parental concerns about traffic dangers and get more children walking and bicycling to school, which improves their physical fitness and health. From a handful of pilot efforts across the country, Safe Routes to School has grown into a federally-funded program providing more than $600 million over five years for thousands of projects nationwide.

Walkable neighborhoods. Walkable communities are safe and inviting for walking and bicycling, while also featuring compact development and a variety of destinations, such as parks and public space and nearby schools, workplaces and other amenities like restaurants and retail facilities. The tools to increase community livability by improving walkability go beyond investing in pedestrian infrastructure, giving residents and visitors convenient destinations they can walk to.

Congress also needs to move more transportation funds toward safer streets, no state spends more than 5% of federal transportation funds on sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming, speed humps, multi-use paths, or safety programs for pedestrians or cyclists.

Now is the time for Congress to act

Congress is currently considering the goals and objectives for a federal transportation bill that will send transportation money to states and cities and guide their spending priorities. The continued high fatality rate shows a clear need for strong leadership and greater resources to end preventable pedestrian deaths and require more accountability from states on how those funds are spent.

Adopt a National Complete Streets Policy. Ensure that all federally funded road projects take into account the needs of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users as well as children, older adults and individuals with disabilities, so they are able to travel safely and conveniently on our streets. Learn more at

Expand the Safe Routes to School Program. Expanding the Safe Routes to School program would allow more communities and schools across the country to address critical safety concerns and make it safer for students walking and bicycling to school and in their neighborhoods. Learn more at

Commit a Fair Share for Safety. With pedestrians comprising 11.8 percent of all traffic fatalities, it is only fair to dedicate at least that proportion of Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds to pedestrian projects.
Hold states accountable. Congress must hold states accountable to ensure that transportation funds are spent wisely, by ensuring that:

  1. New streets are built to be safe for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike,
  2. The most dangerous roads are retrofit for safety,
  3. Federal safety dollars result in lives saved and a more active population.

Transportation For America Flickr slideshow of Dangerous Streets:

Click the images to visit Flickr for photo attributions

Which cities are the safest for pedestrians? Which are dangerous? [Christian Science Monitor]
Taking a walk shouldn’t be a contact sport [The Boston Globe]

Greater City Providence

Promoting the smart urban growth of the Greater Providence region.


  • What annoys me most are the suburban areas. I’m looking at you Braintree, MA, or even Barrington, RI.

    They give a great big “Fuck you” to pedestrians. Either no sidewalks or sidewalks only on one side of a road. Nice huh?

  • Interesting post. I found it scary that the top four most dangerous cities are in Florida.

  • One of my biggest faux pas about living in Providence is that most motorists do not even care if you have a cross signal or stop sign. They breeze right through it. You have a higher chance of being hit walking through a crosswalk that is the pedestrians right of way than jumping out in traffic. What is it with Providence? OR this state? I live on College Hill and CHOOSE to walk to everything I need and drive when I absolutely have to. Why do RI’ers look down at pedestrians as if they are poor? They are the fat losers.

  • If you can breeze through a signalized intersection when making a right hand turn, why would drivers put any more importance on a non-signalized crosswalk or an intersection with no marked crosswalk at all? Perhaps, the City of Providence should take a lesson from New York where within the five boroughs it’s illegal to make a right-turn-on-red unless a sign is posted saying that you can. Before Rhode Island had a right-turn-on-red law this was less of a problem. Thank California.

  • Piers Anthony, who writes a lot of tripe, wrote an interesting passage in his book On A Pale Horse wherein the main character, in order to accomplish a goal, had to travel as a pedestrian (walking and swimming), on a self-motivated transport (bicycle, kayak), and in motorized transport (car, motorboat).

    I think it’s worth reading not because it is full of enlightenment. I mean it’s a throwaway chapter from an interesting but not very deep fantasy story. But, the lesson the character is supposed to learn is to have some empathy for all of these different modes.

    And the real point is that I find a lot of the insensitivity to pedestrians comes from people who never walk. A lot of the “omg pedestrians can do no wrong and all drivers suck donkey balls” comes from people who spend most of their time walking. In the end, I think both groups have plenty of shame. The problem of course is that a pedestrian can’t kill a driver by walking into his car. I get that. But I think that on top of building for safety there needs to be some kind of more general understanding.

  • Brick, well said! I find that to be the case most of the time as well. You forgot the third group, though… bikers. It won’t be until everyone can understand what the others are going through that people will be more respectful of those who use other modes of transportation.

  • I know this article focuses on pedestrians, which means foot traffic, but I wish law enforcement would step up and start warning or ticketing bicyclists that don’t follow traffic laws. I always courteous to bicycles on the road, but, I can’t count the number of riders I’ve seen almost get hit because they decided not to follow the rules by stopping at a stop sign or a red light. In places like Newport and Providence, this is a bigger problem than accidents caused by drunk driving.

  • I don’t think it is a bigger problem than drunk driving. I am going to suggest that your actual problem is that you are annoyed they “get” to violate the traffic law that is making you sit around and idle in traffic.

    Talk about hyperbole.

  • Ted, I’ve often said the same thing. I usually get the response “bike laws should not be the same as car laws because it’s easier for a car to get moving from a complete stop than a bike”. While I have no problem with bicyclists who run red lights or stop signs if no one is coming, assuming they have good visibility of the cross streets and because I do this myself in the short rides I take around Elmhurst, I don’t think the laws should be different.

    I have nearly hit bicyclists who come flying through stop signs as I’m about to start pulling through the intersection after I’ve come a complete stop (this has happened multiple times at the Point-Prarie intersection). I don’t agree with loosening the laws for bicyclists because it is assumed (as it should be) that at a 4 way stop everyone is stopping and bicyclists, especially at dusk or night, are difficult to see.

  • Brick, I agree, it’s not a bigger problem than drunk driving, but it is a problem. Bicyclists do not “get” to run stop signs and red lights. It’s against the law for them to do that, as it should be. They can be just as dangerous to pedestrians as a motor vehicle.

  • Well, to be clear, cyclists should not cut off other traffic but I don’t see a reason for even cars to stop when there is not crossing traffic.

    OK, I do see a reason which is that in this country we give a license to any mouth breather who can actually manage to get themselves to the DMV and we don’t re-test until people are a million years old and therefore we need all these laws and a dogmatic approach in order to keep people’s own stupidity from killing themselves and others. I mean I get that but I am amazed that a country like England doesn’t even have 4 way stops at intersections outside of city centers because they actually give the drivers the assumption that they can observe if there is other traffic coming and to procede safely.

    Another problem is that we tend to use traffic laws as calming procedures. So you get roads like Elmgrove on the East Side where there are four way stops at every intersection not because of traffic hazards and cross traffic, but because the high rent neighbors don’t want people speeding. Instead of those, how about we not have 6 car length wide streets?

    Having traveled the world makes me really appreciate how stupid the US is about cars and integrating them into the entire fabric of the country.

    I also drive a lot, I bike a lot, I walk a lot. I am always aware of my surroundings and other people. The problem is people who are not aware or actually don’t even care.

  • When i was a boy I was taught when crossing a street..stop, look left, look right, look left again. Then cross when it is safe to do so. I don’t know how many pedestrians i see not even stopping because they are talking on a cell phone, texting, or wearing ear buds and not paying attention. Then there are the pedestrians who step off the sidewalk before they stop. As a motorist they scare me the most because you don’t what they are going to do. I wonder how many of those deaths are attributed to the negligence of the pedestrian. Its not enough to have sidewalks and signage. Anytime you are mixing pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists everyone has to pay attention. I know because when i was in eighth grade i forgot what i was taught and ended up in a hospital. My fault not the drivers.

  • Dan said:
    Then there are the pedestrians who step off the sidewalk before they stop.

    That would be a design flaw. Most places in this or any other city, due to to design of the streets and sidewalks, a pedestrian cannot see into the street without stepping out into it. If sidewalks extended into the street at intersections and crosswalks, then pedestrians would be able to safely see into the street from the sidewalk, and motorists would be better able to see pedestrians preparing to cross.

  • I am all for bump-outs although i am not sure if having them at every intersection is practical. If i am a half a block up and i can see the pedestrian as they step off the curb, then our line of sites are identical. Once they are in the street it becomes more unpredictable as to what they are going to do.

    My point was that pedestrians are just as inattentive as are motorists. Just go hang around downtown during the Kennedy Plaza repaving. People are crossing against the lights, crossing mid-block even when there is oncoming traffic, stepping out from behind or in front of buses right into the lane of travel. Just this morning I saw someone step right out from in front of a bus, head phones on, hat pulled down not even looking at the traffic. Pedestrian safety starts with pedestrians making safe choices. I speak from experience, the car will win every time.

  • Few small points.

    First about the bikes – and you all know my stance here – it’s not a ‘loosening of laws’. It’s a legal structure known as the Idaho Law, where it originated.

    Second, my grandmother used to say “There’s always plenty of stupid to go around.” There are drivers, cyclist and pedestrians that are engaged in their activities, and there are those who not. My gut tells me the latter are spread equally and, in RI, liberally.

    Last, my paradigm for multi-transit interaction is NYC. And there, it’s not about the laws but about assumed standards of behavior. The three layers just mesh very well because there’s a high expectation that you’re not an idiot. I wrote about it on the NC blog. Do follow the link to the article by David Weinberger at the Berkman Institute. Love me some Cluetrain thinkin’.

  • Jef, bumpouts would be great everywhere, but even if pedestrians stopped at the end of the parked cars. I’ve almost hit people because they just walked right out from behind a parked car and kept going without pausing to look to make sure traffic stopped.

    There is no single party (drivers, walkers, bikers) who is at fault. Everyone is at fault because no one is paying attention. If everyone paid more attention, we would have far fewer problems. Heck, I’ve had people walk into me while I was standing on a sidewalk because they were too busy staring at their cell phones texting instead of watching where they were walking.

  • I walk, drive and bike, but I strongly disagree with any notion like “motorists, pedestrians, cyclists must share the blame”, or “Pedestrian safety starts with pedestrians making safe choices.”

    Drivers of vehicles have privileges on I-95. That’s plenty enough says I. Anywhere off the highway, in town, near sidewalks and crosswalks, pedestrians should be fully privileged, then cyclists, then vehicles.

    People are crossing against the lights, crossing mid-block even when there is oncoming traffic, stepping out from behind or in front of buses right into the lane of travel.

    That sounds pretty good to me!

    Those folks may be a little more carefree than present circumstances truly permit, but I think rampant jaywalking in an urban environment is a feature, not a bug. Having to drive as if some fool is going to dart in front at any moment is exactly how driving should be, in town. Walking should be a serene, stress free experience, without waiting or detours.

  • To each his own. But the laws of physics don’t change. Your walk will serene and stress free right up to the point of impact. Then Darwin’s law takes over.

  • I know perfectly well about the Newtonian physics involved here, but what does Darwin have to do with it? Motor vehicles are not some natural condition to which the human species must adapt, or die out.

  • Bicycles are also not some natural condition. The fact remains that the state and cities give motor vehicles rights to use the streets. Motor vehicles should not have to assume that pedestrians will jump out at any point along the road, just as pedestrians should not have to assume that motor vehicles will pull onto a sidewalk at any point along a road.

    In order for it to truly work properly, we all have to be considered equals. Everyone has equal right to the road. Once someone has more rights than another, people start to get pissed and trouble happens. If walkers considered bikers and drivers their equals, if bikers considered walkers and drivers their equals, and if drivers considered walkers and bikers their equals, and they all respected each other’s mode of transportation, we would have far fewer problems. It gets really annoying when people get all high and mighty that walking should be the single most important most of transportation. Plain and simple, it just does not work for everyone.

  • Cars, bicycles and people are not equals. To ignore vast differences in vulnerabilities, dangers posed and external costs when considering how society ought to assign responsibilities and privileges to various classes of public space users just cedes the game to cars. Cars come first practically everywhere and there are plenty of places where I would try not change that. But I demand a new realm, in cities and towns, where streets are public spaces where cars defer to other users. Equal schmequal.

    “Motor vehicles should not have to assume that pedestrians will jump out at any point along the road…” – Well, not every road, everywhere of course, but I say this is not too much to expect near residential neighborhoods and walkable business districts. This will eliminate injury and death on our streets. How did we come to accept injury and death as routine, appropriate consequences of walking too carelessly? This was a choice, not an inevitabilty.

  • Who ever said that we should accept injury and death as routine? If you’re careless no matter what mode of transportation you CHOOSE, you risk injury or death.

    If you don’t want cars in a city, just say so. I have no problem with a car-free downtown so long as there are ample parking spaces on the outskirts. In fact, I can picture a downtown Providence with good sized parking garages at the corners and no cars downtown. The rest of the city, however, cannot go that way. The public transportation here sucks for going somewhere without proper planning.

    It’s irresponsible to think that someone driving a car should always be expecting people to jump out into the street at any moment in time. It’d be safer if cars drove 25 mph, but if someone jumps out into the street 5 feet in front of your car, they’re probably getting hit. It’s unfortunate, but brakes, even on a small car going the speed limit, don’t work that fast when reaction time is taken into consideration, even on the most alert driver. While I understand it’s the cars fault in the event of an accident, crosswalks, whether physical or assumed, were invented for a reason. Yeah, I know the response will be “they were invented because of the car”. The fact remains, however, that the car is not going anywhere and many people do have legitimate needs for their cars.

    Drivers should always be alert and on the lookout and aware of their surroundings, but pedestrians should NOT be jumping out into the street wherever and whenever they want. It’s illegal for a reason. How would you feel if someone crashed their car into a pole and got seriously injured because they swerved to avoid you jaywalking? That’s just as irresponsible as the driver doing 35 through the city listening to the radio full blast and chatting on the cell phone.

  • There could only be a car-free downtown when there is extensive and frequent public transit, streetcar or bus, for intra-district travel. Downtown has expanded to a point where walking cannot be the only option and wouldn’t compensate for use of cars alone. There also may be issues with existing garage structures downtown and paying to build new ones around the perimeter, as well as delivery and contractor trucks that come downtown during the day. Also, if downtown were to become less auto dependent people would tend to want to use taxi’s more. Would they be banned? However, having said all this, the city would likely be better off without vehicles or at least not so many.

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