Lower income neighborhoods hit hardest by pedestrian deaths

By Chris McCahill

According to national data, pedestrian deaths increased by 15 percent between 2009 and 2012 and have made up a growing share of all traffic deaths over the past decade. That is particularly troubling news for lower income neighborhoods, which experience the highest death rates in their regions, according to a new analysis by Governing. A majority of the responsible crashes took place on national, state, and county routes, the study also found.

The analysis looked at more than 22,000 pedestrian fatalities around the nation between 2008 and 2012. Crash data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System were matched to Census tracts, allowing the researchers to compare crashes to demographic data from the Census. Pedestrian death rates in the poorest neighborhoods were higher than their regional averages in 100 out of 104 large metropolitan areas considered. Nationwide, neighborhoods with median incomes below $21,559 experienced 10.4 deaths per 100,000 people—twice as many as neighborhoods with incomes above $31,356. The analysis also shows that fatality rates increase gradually from 3.8 to 12.6 per 100,000 people as poverty rates increase from 5 to 30 percent.

This recent analysis echoes prior studies in Illinois and New Jersey, among others. Like earlier studies, Governing points to both deficient infrastructure and higher rates of walking in low income communities as likely contributing factors. For those reasons, improved travel options and safer walking facilities will be essential for getting those numbers down. Smart Growth America’s recently updated report, Dangerous by Design, highlights many of the key issues and approaches to consider in addressing pedestrian fatalities. According to the Governing analysis, 24 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred on state highways, 15.6 percent occurred on U.S. highways, 11.8 percent occurred on county roads, and 10 percent occurred on Interstates (a combined total of 61.4 percent), meaning that state and county agencies will play essential roles in addressing these issues.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.