Sunday, March 06, 2005

Trapped on the Dumb Growth Path


The most dangerous mode of transportation in the United State is walking according to a report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project. I assume that includes my favorite mode of locomotion: running. (Certainly on many occasions passersby have thought my dogged jog was a walk; so goes aging.)

When you get into the statistics, the findings about the dangers of perambulation are quite striking:

• In 2003, 4,827 Americans died while crossing the street, walking to school or work, going to a bus stop, or strolling to the grocery, among other daily activities. Although only 8.6 percent of all trips are made on foot, 11.4 percent of all traffic deaths are pedestrians.

• Senior citizens, African-American and Latino pedestrians suffer a fatality rate well in excess of the population at large. In particular, African-Americans make up 19 percent of pedestrian deaths, even though they represent just 12.7 percent of the total population.

• And the danger is getting greater, not less. The Orlando (FL) metropolitan area, which has seen an increase in pedestrian death rate of more than 117 percent in the last ten years, ranks as the most dangerous area today, as well as the place where danger increased most in the last 10 years.

What's going on here?

According to Paul Farmer of the American Planning Association, "Mean streets are produced by dumb growth… too much growth continues to be both dumb and unsafe."

We're making ourselves extensions of our cars, rather than using our cars to free us. According to the report, "Automobile-oriented transportation networks are sometimes so seamless that commuters can go directly from the garages of their homes to the basements in their worksites without so much as a short walk."

What about the rest of the world?

Europeans are also very concerned about rising pedestrian death tolls. About 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists are killed and a further 300,000 injured in the EU each year in road accidents. So what do they do? Call for redesign of cars so that people who are hit at speeds less than 40km (25 mph) will be less likely to be killed.

European Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen commented in 2003: "This proposal will ensure that vehicles are designed with the safety of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users in mind. I am pleased that the automotive industry has already committed itself to meeting the safety requirements…"

Sure isn't the UsofA! The automakers would be fighting these requirements for all they are worth -- and most of us couldn't imagine walking anywhere anyway.

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