We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: street safety is about equity. Streets designed for speeding cars are inherently designed dangerously, leaving people who do not drive at higher risk of getting hit and killed. We already know that children, seniors, and people of color make up a disproportionately high share of pedestrian deaths; a new analysis by Governing digs deeper into the data to reiterate that pedestrians are dying at higher rates in low income neighborhoods.
The analysis by Governing looked at 22,000 pedestrians killed nationwide between 2008 and 2012. It found that poorer areas have approximately double the fatality rate of wealthier communities. Census tracts with poverty rates above 30 percent had more than triple the pedestrian deaths compared to tracts with poverty rates less than 5 percent. The data is published via a map tool and a county and census tract database.
There are multiple factors which contribute to this disparity. Poorer communities have higher volumes of pedestrians since fewer people can afford to drive. But they are unfortunately also often the most car-oriented and least-walkable environments. Poorer communities often have been victimized by urban planners who have focused on moving wealthier commuters through the neighborhoods quickly via major arterials and freeways. Meanwhile, they often lack adequate pedestrian facilities: an analysis of 154 communities by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that only 49 percent of low-income areas had sidewalks, compared to 89 percent of high-income areas. Crosswalks are often absent as well, creating deadly situations like the infamous case of Raquel Nelson, who was charged with vehicular manslaughter of her son for crossing a suburban Atlanta road where no crosswalk was present (she was later cleared of charges).
Fast vehicle speeds, inadequate sidewalks and crosswalks, and high volumes of pedestrians creates a deadly combination. These trends are clearly apparent in low income areas across the country, whether it’s South Los Angeles or poorer parts of Miami
It’s also worth emphasizing that dangerous streets do not only affect those who are hit and killed. Unwalkable streets represent a key environmental barrier to obesity. Poorer communities have significantly higher rates of obesity than wealthier communities in part due to the lack of safe pedestrian facilities.
Unfortunately, issues of street safety and social equity are being compounded as America’s poor move to suburban areas that are not built for walking. Poverty rates in suburban communities are growing at twice the rate compared to urban communities – up 64 percent between 2000 and 2011. This trend is readily apparent in outer-edge Bay Area communities like Antioch, Fairfield, and Stockton. Meanwhile, the automobile-oriented street infrastructure in these communities has yet to catch up.
Governing’s message is clear: cities must especially invest in pedestrian safety improvements in their poorest communities. No one should face a life-or-death situation every time they walk down the street, especially because they just happen to be poor.