Report says Pittsburgh is safe for pedestrians

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For a city where pedestrians and drivers seem to regard crosswalks as quaint decorations to be ignored at will, Pittsburgh has rated as one of America's safest metropolitan areas for walking.

In a study to be released today by groups that advocate safety improvements, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area was surpassed only by Boston among the 51 U.S. metro areas for its low danger rate for walkers. Three years ago, a similar study ranked Pittsburgh fourth safest of 52 metro areas.

The study, "Dangerous by Design 2014," reports that 47,025 people died while walking on U.S. streets in 2003 through 2012, or 16 times the number of Americans who died in natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes during the same period.

"And yet pedestrian deaths don't receive a corresponding sense of urgency," said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, which issued the report. He spoke with reporters on a conference call.

The group, along with AARP, urged Congress to pass legislation requiring states to develop policies that promote safety for all users of streets.

While fatalities among those in motor vehicles have been declining, U.S. pedestrian deaths spiked upward from 4,280 in 2010 to 4,743 in 2012, when walkers made up 15 percent of traffic fatalities, the authors said.

"The number of drivers and passengers of vehicles who died in traffic crashes dropped by one-third from 2003 to 2012. We realized this significant drop by focusing on vehicle design, encouraging and enforcing seat belt use, cracking down on drunk driving and curbing distracted driving -- saving thousands of loved ones," the report said. "We have invested nowhere near the same level of money and energy in providing for the safety and security of people when they are walking."

Children, the elderly and minorities are disproportionately represented in the fatality statistics, the report said.

The authors calculated what they called the Pedestrian Danger Index, using five years of pedestrian fatality statistics and census data on the percentage of people who walk to work in each metro area.

Pittsburgh's index was 25.1, less than half the national average of 52.2. Only the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass., metro area scored lower, at 18.65.

The four most dangerous metro areas all were in Florida, and the authors speculated that wide streets designed to move traffic at high speeds were a factor.

Pittsburgh also scored well on the percentage of all traffic deaths that were pedestrians from 2003 through 2012. Pedestrians here made up 10.2 percent of traffic fatalities, compared with the 15 percent national average. That rated Pittsburgh as fourth-lowest, after Birmingham, Ala., Nashville, Tenn., and Cincinnati.

Asked why Pittsburgh, which almost prides itself as a jaywalking mecca, scores so well in such studies, Mr. Millar said "the best way to save lives is to slow the traffic down." The city's older street grid and narrow lanes do that, he said.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868.

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