October 24, 2023 | Main Spotlight: A Walk Down Main Street for National Pedestrian Safety Month | Marta Olmos, Associate Manager of Content and Communications |
Pedestrians in Lansing, Michigan. Photo by Lansing 5:01.
- October is National Pedestrian Safety Month, a fitting time to examine the state of your street and begin planning a safer future.
- Pedestrian safety is an important consideration for Main Street design.
- Design choices like road diets, lighting, and painted crosswalks can help slow traffic and improve safety.
In 2022, the Governors Highway Safety Association estimated that 7,508 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles on American roads, the highest number since 1981. In big cities and small towns, people face increasing danger when navigating communities on foot. As advocates for connected and walkable downtowns, Main Streets have a crucial role to play in increasing pedestrian safety.
Understanding Where We Stand
To increase pedestrian safety, we first need to understand the scope of the problem. One resource is Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design program, which collected data on pedestrian safety and provides the findings in a variety of formats, including a full report, an interactive map, and rankings by state.
Their data found that people of color, especially those who identify as Black and Native American, were more likely to die in pedestrian collisions. Also at high risk are older adults and people walking in lower-income areas.
Where does your state or local area rank on their list? How can Main Streets help reduce pedestrian fatalities and create safer, more walkable communities?
Slowing Our Streets
Reducing average speed on our streets is one of the easiest and best ways to make them safer for pedestrians, as collisions at higher speeds are much more likely to be deadly. According to Change Lab Solutions, collisions with cars traveling 30 miles per hour result in pedestrian deaths 40 percent of the time, compared to 5 percent of the time for collisions with cars traveling 20 miles per hour.
Reducing municipal speed limits is one way to slow down vehicular traffic in our communities, and Main Streets can be powerful advocates to encourage that change. But there are other important tools that we can use as well. Bloomberg’s Asphalt Art Safety Study analyzed asphalt art sites across the country and found that the presence of asphalt art resulted in a 27 percent increase in the rate of drivers yielding to pedestrians and a 25 percent drop in potentially dangerous conflicts between drivers and pedestrians.
A “road diet” is another tool to calm traffic, reduce speeds, and make streets safer. This involves transforming a four-lane road into a three-lane road (one lane in each direction and a center two-way left turn lane). Road diets have been found to improve pedestrian safety by reducing the number of lanes at crossings, creating opportunities for pedestrian refuges on roads, and facilitating more consistent driving speeds.
Other traffic calming measures include medians, pinch points, chicanes, reduced setbacks, sidewalk trees, and on-street parking. Many of these changes can align with other Main Street placemaking goals, like installing parklets, adding public art, and increasing access.
Traffic calming streetscape improvements in Denison, Texas. Photo by Rachel Reinert.
Creating Safer Spaces for Pedestrians
Sidewalks and crosswalks are critical design elements that can save lives, and Main Streets need to consider them in downtown design.
Poor lighting, parked cars, and roadway curvature can reduce visibility at crosswalks, resulting in unsafe conditions for pedestrians. When designing your downtown streetscape, it is important to consider how certain design elements will interact with crosswalks and sidewalks. Will that streatery block drivers from seeing pedestrians waiting on the corner? Can the decorative lighting also illuminate the road? How will a decorated crosswalk affect traffic?
Improving sidewalk networks is another important way to increase pedestrian safety. In a 2012 study by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, only two thirds of respondents said that their community had sidewalks. Does your Main Street have sidewalks throughout the district? Does your sidewalk network connect to the rest of your community? Are your sidewalks ADA compliant?
Sidewalks are where business, people, and place intersect. Main Streets can be powerful partners in building robust sidewalk networks that support local economies, enrich the downtown design, and improve pedestrian safety.
Moving Toward Change
Main Street America’s transportation toolkit, Navigating Streets As Places, is a great place to start building the knowledge and skills needed to improve pedestrian safety. We encourage you to read through the additional resources provided in the Safety section for more details.
If your community is committed to improving pedestrian safety, consider applying for Department of Transportation funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law this year. The Safe Streets and Roads for All program provides both planning and implementation grants to prevent death and serious injury on roads and streets. This program is funded through 2026 and funding announcements for FY23 are anticipated soon. Start considering an application for next summer now!
Our Movement is centered around the idea of a Main Street as a place where economic vitality, design, and place come together to create and sustain a community. This idealized street cannot exist in a world where pedestrians continue to die in large numbers due to poor roadway design. This National Pedestrian Safety Month, take some time to critically examine the state of your street and begin planning a safer future.
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