Pedestrian safety study ranks D.C. in middle
Danger is worse in cities that boomed after WWII, coalition says

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A national transportation coalition concluded Monday that dozens of other metropolitan areas are more dangerous for pedestrians than Washington -- just hours after a car struck and killed a D.C. man as he crossed a street in Suitland.

Lawrence Bettis Jr., 37, was walking across Route 5 near Old Branch Avenue about 2:15 a.m. when he was struck by a PT Cruiser traveling north, police said.

Bettis's death -- he was pronounced dead at the scene -- is the latest in a troublesome number of pedestrian fatalities. In the past two years, 180 pedestrians were killed by cars in the area. However, walking in Washington is less dangerous than in 31 other areas, according to the Transportation for America, a transportation advocacy group.

Cities that came of age in the post-World War II era, when the car was king, are far more dangerous places to walk, the study said. Boom areas including Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Houston, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix ranked among the 20 worst for walkers.

"Many of these communities were designed after WWII with the automobile in mind," said Anne Canby, executive director of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. "You just don't have walkable communities."

Cities of the horse-and-buggy era, many of them in the Northeast, are better places for traveling safely on foot. Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York and Boston all ranked in the bottom half of the 52 metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million.

Geoff Anderson, co-chairman of Transportation for America, said almost 12 percent of traffic fatalities involve pedestrians, and 2 percent of transportation spending is used to improve pedestrian safety.

An average of $1.39 a person was spent on pedestrian and bicycle safety projects in the 52 areas surveyed. The average in Washington was $1.19.

Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, authored a study of the region's traffic fatalities last year.

"With pedestrians comprising over 21 percent of traffic fatalities in the region, we should be spending far more making our streets safer for pedestrians," she said.

The Transportation for America study used a unique formula to determine the relative risk pedestrians face in metropolitan areas. Factoring in the total number of fatalities during 2007-08 with the percentage of people who told the Census Bureau they walk to work, the authors determined a "pedestrian danger index" for each area.

The Orlando area was the most dangerous, with an index of 221.5, and Minneapolis-St. Paul was the safest, with a 22.3 index. The Washington area's index was 57.2.

One of the most densely populated areas of the country -- New York, Northern New Jersey and Long Island -- ranked as one of the least dangerous, 50th out of the 52 areas rated by the danger index standard.

By an entirely different measure applied in the study, that region ranked first in the percentage of fatal accidents that took the life of a pedestrian. More than 31 percent of its traffic fatalities involved pedestrian deaths. The Washington area, at 21 percent, ranked eighth.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the pedestrian study adds weight to the argument for integrating automobile traffic, mass transit, bicycling and walking in a master transportation plan.

"Often the pedestrian is the forgotten figure in transportation planning," he said, pointing to such areas as Rockville Pike and Route 1 that were designed to accommodate cars. "If you look at these pedestrian deaths, you'll find that a lot of them are along commercial corridors."

Elinor Ginzler of AARP said that pedestrians older than 65 are particularly vulnerable.

"They are two-thirds more likely to be killed while walking than someone under 65," Ginzler said. Forty-eight percent of the elderly who responded to an AARP survey said they lived in an area without sidewalks, she said.

"People will outlive their driving years by seven to 10 years," she said. "Fifty percent of them said they would walk more if they had a hospitable environment."

Staff writer Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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