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Rethink roads to lower pedestrian deaths

Pedestrian Deaths Things to Know-1

A truck drives through a marked crosswalk in front of pedestrians in St. Paul, Minn., after deaths spiked to a 25-year high in Minnesota in 2016.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The number of pedestrians killed in the United States over the past decade or so — 49,340 between 2008 and 2017 — is about seven times higher than the number of Americans killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.

Those are among the many sobering statistics from a recent report by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition, which rightly calls on local, state and national leaders to make safer roads a priority.

Perhaps even more troubling than the number of deaths, however, is the primary reason why our streets are so dangerous: We build them that way.

Over the 10-year study period, pedestrian deaths jumped by more than 35 percent while motorist deaths actually dropped by about 6 percent. And those shifts happened even as the nation drove slightly more and walked almost exactly the same amount.

In other words, our focus on building roads designed almost entirely for cars seems to be making things marginally safer for drivers, which is a good thing. But that slight improvement has come at great cost for pedestrians.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

A big part of the problem is the way we measure the success of a road, which has a lot to do with a metric called “level of service.” Roads are given a letter grade based on traffic flow at peak hours. Congested roads fail, free-flowing roads get good grades.

But as the study correctly notes, “Minimizing vehicle delay as the number one goal often produces the roads that are the most dangerous by design.”

High traffic speeds are, not surprisingly, very closely correlated with pedestrian risk. The likelihood of a crash being fatal increases dramatically when cars are traveling faster than about 30 mph.

And the focus on moving traffic quickly isn’t just for pedestrians.

An incredible 340,000 American drivers lost their lives behind the wheel between 2008 and 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s about one person every 15 minutes.

Focusing on level of service also doesn’t necessarily mean taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck. Some roads with good grades are wastefully overbuilt, for example. Other streets with failing grades run through popular, desirable and highly productive neighborhoods.

As the study notes, Congress has a prime opportunity to make safer streets a priority as part of ongoing federal transportation funding efforts and a potential bipartisan push for infrastructure improvements. State and local governments need to be part of the solution as well.

The top priority ought to be rethinking basic street design.

“Rather than designing roads that encourage speeding and then relying upon enforcement, states and cities should design roads to encourage safer, slower driving speeds in the first place,” suggests the study.

We can also fix problematic roads by testing out a variety of traffic calming measures, many of which are relatively cheap and easy to implement — and easy to undo if they cause more problems than they solve.

The Post & Courier of Charleston, S.C.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.


February 15, 2019

When it seemed Mitt Romney might win the popular vote in 2012 but lose the Electoral College, Donald Trump called the system “a disaster for a democracy.”

He was right about that. The election four years later confirmed it.

He is the fifth president to have won only on account of an…

Electoral College-3

February 11, 2019

While North Carolina has become more accommodating to those outside the two-party paradigm, with the recent recognition of the Green and Constitution parties, third-party and unaffiliated voters are still getting the shaft.

The Carolina Journal reports that county boards of elections in the Tar…

Voting Records North Carolina

February 08, 2019

Having been forced to delay his State of the Union address by a government shutdown that he precipitated, President Trump seemed as though he might never yield the podium once he got his chance Tuesday night. In a speech that reflected endurance if not eloquence, Trump offered a thin sheen of…

State of Union-2

February 06, 2019

The number of pedestrians killed in the United States over the past decade or so — 49,340 between 2008 and 2017 — is about seven times higher than the number of Americans killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.

Those are among the many sobering statistics from a recent report…

Pedestrian Deaths Things to Know-1

February 04, 2019

If the war in Afghanistan has been anything, it has been a disappointment.

After 17 years of fighting that has seen thousands of deaths and nearly a trillion dollars in expenses, Americans are sick and tired of the interminable conflict.

Fortunately, serious and substantive negotiations are finally…

US Afghanistan

February 03, 2019

Those upset with how the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is running the 17-campus system have been circulating a year-old magazine profile of Chairman Harry Smith. The profile, written by Jim Pomeranz and published last January in Business North Carolina, was headlined…


February 01, 2019

With frigid Arctic weather descending on tens of millions of Americans, states have declared emergencies, mail carriers are staying inside, and there’s a risk of frostbite for exposed skin in Chicago in as little as five minutes.

Little wonder that global warming is the last thing on…

Winter Weather Pennsylvania-16

January 30, 2019

As North Carolina lawmakers convene the General Assembly’s 2019 long session today, student journalists, educators and press freedom advocates are calling on state legislatures throughout the country to end censorship of high school student media.

Student Press Freedom Day is dedicated to…

January 29, 2019

President Trump remains bullish that the North Korea nuclear threat can be contained. Speaking to reporters on Jan. 19, the president praised the “incredible meeting” he had the day before with a top representative of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, trumpeting the…

US NKorea-1

January 28, 2019

You may not know much about working conditions for reporters who cover the state legislature in Raleigh.

But maybe you should.

They’ve been consigned to a room in a basement.

Or exiled or banished, depending on how you look at it, from their previous workroom directly adjacent to the…

N.C. Legislative Building
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