As we’ve examined previously both here and here, the Dangerous by Design 2014 report contains a wealth of valuable information on the pedestrian safety crisis in the United States. One of the most striking aspects of the report is the clear connection drawn between speeding and pedestrian deaths. Consider the breakdown of pedestrian fatalities by posted speed limit:
The overarching message of this data is speed kills. More than half of all pedestrian fatalities occur on roads with speed limits greater than 40 mph, and 86 percent occur on roads with speed limits greater than 30 mph (keep in mind that speed limits are often exceeded). In contrast, only 13.5 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on streets with speed limits less than 30 mph, and 0.5 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on streets with speed limits less than 20 mph. This data comes as no surprise: risk of death for pedestrians increases exponentially with speed.
A look into individual California metropolitan areas tells a more striking story:
Rates of pedestrian fatalities in Fresno and Bakersfield are 65 percent and 84 percent higher (respectively) compared to San Francisco-Oakland–Fremont despite significantly higher pedestrian volumes in San Francisco-Oakland–Fremont. 90 percent of these fatalities in Fresno and 80 percent of these fatalities in Bakersfield occur on streets with speed limits greater than 40 mph; in contrast, only 30 percent of fatalities occur in San Francisco-Oakland–Fremont on similarly fast roads (an even lower percentage would likely occur for the urban core of San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley). This data points to the failure of traffic engineering over the last few decades: Fresno, Bakersfield, and others on this list have developed grids of arterials that focus on speed over safety, and as a result are incredibly dangerous environments for pedestrians. The terrible irony is that many of these regions are among the youngest and poorest in the state; many youth and low-income residents depend on walking to get around.
Streets designed with speed limits of over 40 mph are fundamentally designed dangerously. When placed in urban and suburban areas, these roadways pose a threat to anyone who is not driving and do not comply with California’s statewide complete streets policy (AB 1358, PDF). Yet these fast arterials continue to be commonplace throughout California cities and an acceptable design in Caltrans’ Highway Design Manual. This is the tragic message of Dangerous by Design: we have the tools to design streets safely, but we chose not to—instead, we value speed and efficiency for automobiles, and are willing to accept people dying as a necessary cost. Is it worth it?