Walking can be one of the healthiest activities to do for both men and women of any age. Although some of us often disregard what our parents used to tell us, “look both ways before crossing the street,” it may be time to follow the age-old advice to save our life. A new report, Dangerous by Design, released by the National Complete Streets Coalition, affiliated with Smart Growth America, reveals the most perilous cities to walk in America, with Orlando, Fla., listed as the deadliest, and Boston, Mass., as the safest.

The study comes at a time when Congress is debating a transportation funding bill, which suggests state and federal legislators and regulators must do more to make our streets safer for all those who use them. “Congress should require all federally funded road projects to consider the safety of all travelers, including those who are walking, taking public transportation, bicycling and driving, regardless of age or ability,” the report says.

This is of particular concern, as the researchers note over 45,000 pedestrians have been killed between 2003 and 2012, which is the latest year for which data is available. From 2007 to 2012, the number of deaths rose from 4,200 to 5,000, and researchers cannot presume why this is the case. An additional 676,000 pedestrians were injured but survived during the nine-year time span, meaning someone is hit by a car every eight minutes, according to the report. These statistics are 16 times the number of Americans who died in natural disasters over the same time period.

When it comes to at-risk populations, those age 65 and older who make up approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for 21 percent of pedestrian deaths. Children and people of color are also among the most threatened populations who suffer disproportionately from traffic violence. However, children under 16 of all races and ethnicities have the lowest PDI at 6.6, which means there is a low risk of dying as a pedestrian.

Given all this data, why is Orlando the most dangerous and Boston the safest city when it comes to walking around? It all has to do with road building. The common link among the deadliest cities in the Sunbelt, including Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami, and Memphis, Tenn., is they grew rapidly after World War II, when transit design accommodated a suburban lifestyle and focused more on drivers. “A lot of that Southern infrastructure came about during the auto era, the interstate era. The mindset during that time was moving cars fast. We’ve got to change that worldview,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America, Streets Blog USA reported.

The top five safest cities — Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, New York, and San Francisco — tend to be older ones, especially those in the Northeast that developed before cars became the dominant form of transportation. Typically, since the streets are narrower, cars can’t drive as fast as they can in newer cities. These cities also tend to have complete streets, meaning they provide more crosswalks, ample bike lanes, and dedicated bus lanes.

The researchers propose Congress reduce fatalities by designing complete streets that everyone can use safely, without necessarily spending more money. Millar says Congress should distribute what we have more equitably instead. The AARP, among other advocates, are going to Capitol Hill this week to discuss “some very basic education” about the issue, says Executive Vice President Nancy Leamond. They aim to push for planning and transportation policies that reflect the needs of all who use public streets, not just the drivers.

Until Congress does so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends pedestrians increase their visibility at night by carrying a flashlight when walking and by wearing retro-reflective clothing. Pedestrians should remember to cross the street at a designated crosswalk. For instances where pedestrians must walk in the street, they are advised to walk facing traffic.

Top 15 deadliest cities
Photo courtesy of Smart Growth America. Smart Growth America

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