Pedestrians Unsafe on Washington Region’s “Mean Streets”

For Immediate Release: April 23, 2008
Cheryl Cort, CSG, 202-251-7516
Jeff McKay, Fairfax Supervisor, 703-971-6262
Gerald Hyland, Fairfax Supervisor, 703-780-7518

Pedestrians Unsafe on Washington Region’s “Mean Streets”

Study finds pedestrian deaths in Washington metro region most likely in the suburbs.
Local governments must act immediately to protect walkers, bicyclists, and transit riders.

Washington, D.C. – A few days before a regional pedestrian safety summit, the Coalition for Smarter Growth released a new study of pedestrian safety in the Washington, D.C., region. The report finds that suburban jurisdictions are the least safe for walkers, especially Fairfax County, Virginia, and Prince George’s County, Maryland. While jurisdictions are taking steps to improve safety, the Coalition is calling on our region’s leaders to redouble their efforts to ensure that walking is a safe means of travel, and to commit to reducing by half the number of pedestrian crashes that result in death and severe injury in our communities.

The Coalition study used a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), the standard developed by the national Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. The PDI analysis for the Washington area demonstrated that suburban high-speed roads are the scenes of most fatal pedestrian crashes in our region, while urban places offer the safest environments for walking. The PDI looks at rates of pedestrian deaths relative to the amount that people walk in the community. The PDI results for the region’s five major suburban counties, but especially for Fairfax, Prince George’s, and Prince William counties, show that suburban areas pose far worse hazards to pedestrians than the urban communities of Arlington, Alexandria, and the District of Columbia.

“Our region’s leaders need to act immediately to make walking safe. High-risk roadways need to be fixed now. We need to guarantee that all street and intersection projects are designed to safely accommodate children walking to school and commuters headed to Metro or bus stops,” said Cheryl Cort, policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and co-author of the study.  “We can save lives and prevent hundreds of injuries a year with better street design.”

Fairfax County, Virginia, ranked as the most unsafe locality in the region with a PDI measure of 44, followed by Prince George’s County, Maryland, with a measure of 42. The District came in at 10, while Arlington County and the City of Alexandria City ranked safest in the region with PDI measures of 9 and 7 respectively. The regional PDI average is 21.

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay spoke at today’s release to highlight the steps he is taking along with Supervisor Gerry Hyland to make roads in their districts safer for pedestrians. “We have made many improvements to Route 1 to make it a better place for pedestrians and bus riders. But we have much more to do, and intend to keep working with VDOT, county staff and the community to make this area a safe and convenient place for everyone,” said Fairfax County, Virginia Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay.

Most pedestrian deaths in suburban areas occur on higher speed arterial roadways. When injury crashes are compared to deaths, the same pattern emerges as in the PDI measures – an injury crash in a suburban jurisdiction is far more likely to result in death than in an urban area. In Prince George’s County, 1 in 16 injury crashes ends in death, while 1 in 48 crashes results in death in the District of Columbia.

“For too long, our neighborhoods have been treated as superhighways. Our local and state governments need to recognize that communities like Langley Park and Long Branch are urban places where people walk, bicycle, and use public transportation as well as drive,” said Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland.

Fairfax County pedestrian safety activist Robert Brubaker commented, “Pedestrians constantly face missing sidewalks, high speed traffic and no safe way to cross the road. We’ve advocated for safer walking conditions for years because everyone should have a safe walk to the store, a job or the bus stop.” Brubaker leads the non-profit Metroped, a group advocating for a safer pedestrian environment along Route 1 in Fairfax.

“Our communities are changing. Places once thought to be suburban and wholly auto-dependent are emerging as mixed use places where many people are walking, bicycling and riding transit.  We need to create safe, vibrant walkable places that reduce how much we need to drive and offer people better transportation choices. This starts with ensuring that everyone has a safe walk to the store or bus stop,” said Cort.