Is RVA really a danger zone for pedestrians?

You’ve probably heard about Richmond being #20 on the list of most dangerous cities for pedestrians. I decided to look into that claim because it seemed a bit dubious.

You’ve probably heard about Richmond being #20 on the list of most dangerous cities for pedestrians. I decided to look into that claim because it seemed a bit dubious.

Transportation for America claims in its Dangerous by Design study, released earlier this month, that “from 2000 through 2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed in the United States, the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing roughly every month.” So where did they get their information, and why did Richmond score so poorly?

Following the link trail, you’ll end up here and here. The trail runs cold on (that sounds trustworthy, right?) without providing a good explanation of what the data means, how it was gathered, or where it comes from.

To the Googles!

Searching for “Pedestrian Danger Index,” the metric used in the study, will take you to the origin of the report from the Transportation for America site. While the “T4A” group isn’t any sort of official US government group, they are a “policy organization primarily focused on building grassroots support for — and enacting — federal, state, and local government laws that support progressive transportation and land use policy.” Here’s a bit of what they have to say:

Nationwide, pedestrians account for nearly 12 percent of total traffic deaths. But state departments of transportation have largely ignored pedestrian safety from a budgetary perspective, allocating only about 1.5 percent of available federal funds to projects that retrofit dangerous roads or create safe alternatives.

The particular piece of data that nets Richmond its #20 spot in the list is this:

In the 2001-09 decade, there were 167 pedestrian fatalities for a rate of 1.4 fatalities per 100,000 people per year.

That’s certainly nothing to scoff at, but I still wasn’t done digging. Underneath the giant table of data you can input a ZIP code or city name and the site will show you a map of the nearby pedestrian fatalities during the 2001-09 decade that their study covers.

Scary, huh? Let’s zoom in a bit. You’ll notice something striking pretty much immediately.

Despite being labeled as as the 20th most dangerous city for pedestrians, it turns that that most of the pedestrian fatalities don’t even occur within the city! Instead they’re almost entirely kept to the surrounding neighborhoods, suburbs, and counties. The City of Richmond proper accounted for only 35 pedestrian fatalities in the ten year span of the study, and as the above map shows most of those are outside of the “walkable” areas of town.

In fact, the places where people are most likely to be walking around appear to be the safest.

The devil is truly in the details — particularly, how you frame a conversation about data will skew how it’s perceived. If you slap a 60-mile radius around Richmond and include all those fatalities in the statistics, yes, Richmond seems dangerous. But the reality of the situation for most city dwellers isn’t quite what an ominous “20th most dangerous” label purports.

photo by iboy_daniel

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Chairman Brando

Chairman Brando is the developer nerdguy for The Good Ship RVANews. He is good at finding things on the Internets and loves kitties (and puppies).

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