Monday, November 9, 2009

Newsflash: Walking is still dangerous

In the newly released study Dangerous by Design, Transportation for America ranks metropolitan areas across the US by its "Pedestrian Danger Index" (calculated by dividing the annual pedestrian fatalities in each area by the percentage of people who commute to work on foot). Just for kicks, they also throw in rankings for pedestrian and bicycle spending.

At this point you probably expect the obligatory rant about LA's low spot on the spending list, or at least an astonished exclamation about how the top 10 most dangerous cities are all in the south.

Sorry, but I've got other things to complain about today.


1. Census data undercounts pedestrian trips. This is because the census only allows respondents to check one box next to the "how did you get to work today" question. It's a silly system since at least part of every trip is made on foot--even if it's just a walk through a parking lot. (Unless, of course, you're carried to work in a litter. And if you are, please let me know how I can get a job there too).

2. Census data only includes commute trips. At last count, those made up just over 15 percent of total travel in the US. So, we're in the dark about 85 percent of the trips Americans take, many of which could be walking trips.

3. Biking and walking are not the same. I'll save my polemics on the inevitable, illogical grouping of these two barely-related modes for another day. But I would like to point out that funding data nearly always combines the two, so we rarely know how much money is spent on pedestrians alone.

With so many data problems, rankings like Transportation for America's don't tell us much about the state of the pedestrian world. But they should remind us that if we're going improve walkability, we need a far better understanding of what's going on out there. If we can do it for freeways (and for the record, Caltrans does), we can do it for sidewalks.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points. Up here in SF we're having the same debate, with the added twist that our metro region appeared fairly safe on T4A's report. It's worth remembering that no matter where your city falls on the relative scale described in the report, as long as people are dying on our streets and sidewalks its not safe enough!

    Thanks for spending the time to keep this blog :-)