Which cities are the safest for pedestrians? Which are dangerous?

Some of the most dangerous places for pedestrians, according to a new report, are cities in the South – in areas that built streets mainly for automobiles. Not surprisingly, the safest cities have many miles of bike lanes or sidewalks.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Some of the most dangerous places to walk or ride a bicycle in America are in the South – in fast-growing metropolitan areas that have built their streets mainly for automobiles.

In fact, four of the five worst metro areas for walking or biking are in Florida: Orlando-Kissimmee, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville. The other metro area in this group of five is Memphis, Tenn.

This list of the most dangerous metro areas – as well as the safest – was part of a report released Monday by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, both advocates for what they term "complete" streets. These include separate areas for walking or biking, or at least roads with clearly marked space for other forms of transportation.

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The metro areas that are the most hazardous were designed after World War II and are mostly automobile-oriented, says Anne Canby, executive director of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. "Walkers and bicycles were not considered, leaving those who wish to walk with unsafe situations," she said in a conference call Monday with reporters.

If cities promote walking and bicycling, it might also help them cope with health issues such as obesity and heart disease, said Linda Degutis, former president of the American Public Health Association.

"When people don't feel safe and comfortable, they do not get out to exercise and bike," Dr. Degutis said in the conference call. "A lot of communities need to think about retrofitting their streets not only to make them safer places, but also to improve public health."

Adding sidewalks and bike paths could especially help the elderly, said Elinor Ginzler, director for livable cities at AARP, another participant in the conference call. "The infrastructure is not geared towards older individuals, which contributes to their higher death rate," she said.

The report cites a California case in which an 82-year-old woman was given a $114 ticket for crossing the street too slowly.

One goal of the groups is to get more money spent on pedestrian and bicycle safety. According to Geoff Anderson, co-chair of Transportation for America, pedestrian deaths represent 11.8 percent of all traffic fatalities, but only 2 percent of highway funds are spent for pedestrian safety. "We think they need to dedicate a proportional amount," said Mr. Anderson, noting that several bills before Congress would fund "complete-street programs" (read: here and here).

Perhaps it's not surprising, but the safest cities for walking and biking have many miles of bike lanes or sidewalks. According to the report, the top five safest metro areas are Minneapolis, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.

"When you look at those that are safest, they are mostly older cities – except for those who have focused on a full variety of options," Ms. Canby said. "Minneapolis, for example, is one of those places that has spent a lot of money to make it safer to walk and bike."

Some cities that ranked low in past reports show improvement in the new study. One is St. Petersburg, Fla. Since embarking on a "Vision 2000" plan, the city has installed 83 miles of infrastructure for bicycles, added 13 miles of sidewalks, and improved crosswalk safety.

St. Pete has reduced pedestrian crashes by more than 50 percent since 2000, and serious injuries are down even more.

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