RELEASE: DC is a significantly safer place to walk than the metro region as a whole, according to a new report

Smart Growth America
Coalition for Smarter Growth (DC/MD/VA)
Partnership for Smarter Growth (Richmond)

January 10, 2017


Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth
(703) 599-6437

Alexandra Dodds, Smart Growth America
(202) 971-3927

Andrew Moore, Partnership for Smarter Growth
(804) 283-6819

Dangerous by Design

  • New rankings show District of Columbia a significantly safer place to walk than metro region as a whole, but also finds big disparities in fatality rates within the city’s population
  • Washington DC region and Hampton Roads region rank safer than Richmond and Baltimore regions
  • Higher rates of pedestrian fatalities found among people of color, elderly, lower income and uninsured

<< Smart Growth America and National Complete Streets Coalition to hold a webinar at 1 pm today. >>

Washington, DC – Nationwide between 2005 and 2014, a total of 46,149 people were struck and killed by drivers while walking. That averages out to about 13 people per day. In the Washington DC region during the same period, 814 people were killed, an average of nearly one every four days.

Each one of those people was a child, parent, friend, classmate, or neighbor. People of color, the elderly, and those from low-income areas experience a disproportionate rate of fatalities. “We have a long way to go to achieve ‘Vision Zero’ in our communities – zero deaths and serious injuries – among road users,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive to Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which works in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Dangerous by Design 2016, a new report released today by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition ranks the 104 largest metro areas in the country as well as every state by a “Pedestrian Danger Index,” or PDI, ranking from greatest risk (1) to the least risk (104 for the regions). PDI is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work (the best available measure of how many people are likely to be out walking each day) and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.

Comparing four regions in our urban crescent

Ranking the regions in the urban crescent between Baltimore and Hampton Roads, the Washington metropolitan area ranks 69th out of 104 metro areas, and Hampton Roads 77th (better than DC region), while Richmond and Baltimore lag, ranking 44th and 55th respectively. The Richmond region, however, showed a 14 point reduction in its PDI between 2014 and 2016. “There has been an increasing focus on walking and bicycling in the Richmond region, more people living in our walkable downtown, and major public education outreach by our partners at Bike Walk RVA,” said Andrew Moore, President of the Partnership for Smarter Growth in Richmond.

DC ranks the best locally for people walking, with a PDI of 15.4, compared to the PDI for the metropolitan statistical area as a whole of 43.5. Virginia’s PDI is 41.4, but Maryland with a PDI of 77.8 lags regionally and below the national average.

“The national report shows only incremental progress in reducing the Pedestrian Danger Index in the DC and Baltimore regions, some progress in Hampton Roads (reduction of 6.5 points) and the aforementioned progress in the Richmond region (reduction of 14 points),” said Schwartz. “Of concern is the uptick in the District of Columbia’s PDI (nearly 1 point). At a time when jurisdictions across our region and nationwide are adopting ‘Vision Zero’ policies that recognize any traffic death is one too many, it’s alarming that we haven’t made more progress over the past few years. We know that better street design, slower speeds, and better reporting and enforcement make a huge impact on how safe it is to walk in a given place.”

Cities and suburbs

“With narrower streets and slower speeds, dense, walkable cities like DC tend to have safety rates better than suburbs with high-speed arterials,” said Schwartz, “That’s what we confirmed when we did a regional version of this national report back in 2008.” (Dangerous by Design 2016 doesn’t include comparative statistics for cities and adjacent suburbs).

“Wide, high-speed arterial roads in the suburbs are particularly dangerous, but can be made safer with fewer and narrower lanes, medians, signalized crossings, better sidewalks, fewer curb cuts, and protected bicycle lanes,” Schwartz continued. “State and local departments of transportation need to make safer street and arterial design a top priority.”

Social disparities

People of color and older adults are overrepresented among pedestrian deaths locally and nationwide. In the District of Columbia, African-American residents account for 48.7% of the population but more than 64.7% of pedestrian fatalities and Hispanic Americans account for 9.9% of the population but more than 13.7% of the pedestrian fatalities. All told, people of color represent 78.4% of the pedestrian fatalities in DC. “It’s imperative that Mayor Bowser and her administration step up their efforts to change street design and other safety measures if we are going to achieve Vision Zero in the city,” said Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Pedestrian fatality rates are also disproportionately high for African Americans in Maryland (29.0% of the population but 38.3% of fatalities), and Virginia (18.9% of the population but 30.6% of fatalities). Even after controlling for the relative amounts of walking among these populations, risks continue to be higher for some people of color—indicating that these people most likely face disproportionately unsafe conditions for walking.

Older adults also face greater risks. DC residents 65 and older represent 11.3% of the city’s population but 21.8% of the city’s pedestrian fatalities. “There are so many ways to make our streets and neighborhoods safer for older adults to navigate,” said Cort, author of CSG’s report, Moving an Age-Friendly DC: Transportation for All Ages. “Leaders can make our region safer for walking through measures like keeping sidewalks and crosswalks in good repair, bump-outs, and protected bicycle lanes, and making sure transit is accessible and usable.”

In addition, Dangerous by Design 2016 finds that PDI is correlated with median household income as well as rates of uninsured individuals. Low-income metro areas are predictably more dangerous than higher-income ones: as median household incomes drop, PDIs rise. Similar trends bear out with rates of uninsured individuals: as rates of uninsured individuals rise, so do PDIs, meaning that the people who can least afford to be injured often live in the most dangerous places for walking.

Read the full Dangerous by Design 2016 report, released today by Smart Growth America, at

About the organizations:

Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at

Partnership for Smarter Growth educates and engages the communities in the Richmond region to work together to improve quality of life by guiding where and how the region grows. It connects residents in the nine jurisdiction region and focuses on land use planning, urban design, transit, and safer streets for walking and bicycling. Learn more at

Smart Growth America is the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for, and leading coalitions to bring better development to more communities nationwide. From providing more sidewalks to ensuring more homes are built near public transportation or that productive farms remain a part of our communities, smart growth helps make sure people across the nation can live in great neighborhoods. For additional information, visit

The report is released in collaboration with AARP, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. See the full report for all partner organization information.