Walkers, Beware
Urbanization of Rural Areas Is Linked to Pedestrian Perils

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fairfax, Prince George's and Prince William counties are the most dangerous places for pedestrians in the Washington region, according to a study released yesterday.

Alexandria is the safest area for walkers, followed by Arlington County and the District, according to "Washington Area's Mean Streets," a report prepared by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a regional anti-sprawl group that advocates for pedestrian-friendly development.

Fairfax County ranked as the most dangerous jurisdiction for walkers, with an average of 15 fatalities a year from 2004 to 2006; Prince George's was second, with an average 24 fatalities a year in the same period; Prince William was third, with an average of three deaths. The study examined pedestrian deaths relative to the percentages of people who walk to work or take a bus.

The most deadly road in the region for pedestrians is University Boulevard, which straddles Prince George's and Montgomery counties, with 29 pedestrian fatalities from 1995 to 2005, according to the study. The second-most dangerous road is Route 1 in Fairfax, with 22 pedestrian fatalities in that period; Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike in Montgomery County ranked third with 14 deaths.

Almost all of the roads with the most pedestrian deaths are state-maintained.

"We need to fix our high-crash roadways," said Cheryl Cort, author of the study. "We find great danger in urbanizing suburban communities like Route 1."

Each year, more than 75 pedestrians are killed on the region's roads, and more than a thousand are injured, the report says.

"The results don't surprise me," said Anne Canby, president of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, a national transportation reform group. "When you look at Fairfax, Prince George's, Loudoun and most of Montgomery County, they were built in the automobile age, when walking was not really viewed as a form of transportation."

Communities built before World War II are much more pedestrian-friendly than those built after the war, when much of American suburbia was created, Canby said.

The study recommends that state and local jurisdictions identify and fix high-crash and high-risk intersections; complete streets and intersections that are being built for the safety and convenience of all users, including pedestrians; update planning, design and maintenance standards to take pedestrians' needs into account; and build walkable mixed-use communities.

Although Alexandria is rated the safest jurisdiction in the region, Arlington is singled out in the report as a "leader in pedestrian transportation safety planning, policy and practice." Alexandria offers many similar policies, the report says.

Prince George's ranks the lowest, as the study says it "does not score well in this assessment on pedestrian danger or actions taken to improve pedestrian safety." The county has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities. One in 16 pedestrian injuries there ends in death, compared with one in 48 in the District.

Susan Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Prince George's Department of Public Works and Transportation, said the county was unfairly "singled out" in the report.

"Prince George's County was at one time very much a rural county," Hubbard said. "With the influx of population, it has become more of an urban county. We're doing what we can."

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), whose district includes the Route 1 area, said one of the problems with that road is that motorists use it as an alternative to Interstate 95, acquiring the "parallel mind-set that it's an interstate."

And Fairfax police Cmdr. Mike Kline said many fatalities on the busy highway involve pedestrians with high blood-alcohol levels who might not be attentive to traffic.

Cort, the author of the study, said it was time to "stop blaming the victims."

Benjamin Lomax, 41, who has lived along the Route 1 corridor all his life, said he knows three people who have been hit trying to cross the road.

"It's so dangerous out here," Lomax said as he waited for a bus yesterday. "There's parts of this road where you have to walk more than a mile to get to a crosswalk just to cross the street. Who's going to do that?"

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