Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sprawl and Safety

This article hints at the connection between sprawl and pedestrian deaths:

Even though much of Houston and surrounding areas have been swallowed by urban sprawl, sidewalk construction and road improvements have not kept pace — a trend that may have cost two pedestrians their lives this month....Both country-like streets have only one lane in each direction and for decades have lacked sidewalks.
Several studies have confirmed that as sprawl increases, walking becomes more dangerous. With a couple of exceptions, dense cities have a much lower pedestrian fatality rate than sprawling areas like suburban Atlanta and Phoenix. And of course, the nature of sprawl pretty much requires people to drive everywhere, which means they're far more likely to die in car accidents than city dwellers.

In his landmark study Mortality Risk Associated With Leaving Home: Recognizing the Relevance of the Built Environment, William H. Lucy "analyzed city, county, state, and federal data for traffic fatalities and homicides by strangers for 15 metropolitan areas, and classified deaths as occurring in the central city, in inner suburbs, or in outer suburbs (exurbs)." After studying fifteen years' worth of data, Lucy concluded that
Traffic fatality rates were highest in exurban areas. Combined traffic fatality and homicide-by-stranger rates were higher in some or all outer counties than in central cities or inner suburbs in all of the metropolitan areas studied.
There are, unfortunately, health costs associated with not being a pedestrian; other studies have shown a clear correlation between increased sprawl, and increased hypertension and body weight.

That said, I'll leave you with a thought-provoking response to Houston's latest pedestrian deaths from Guy Hagstette, Mayor Bill White's special assistant for urban design:
"There wasn't even an anticipation there were people at all who would want to walk in those areas."


janeboatler said...

I live in a small city and we have our version of sprawl. Subdivisions are expanding, along with box-like shopping areas, but no sidewalks follow these develpoments. The only folks you see trying to navigate without cars are the poor and tourists. Folks come from France to visit French Louisiana, and try to make it without cars.

As usual, the poor who live here and don't have cars, are ignored, but you'd think the powers-that-be would care about the tourists, because they spend money. But it seems not. We should have laws that developers have to build sidewalks.

I would walk more if I didn't feel that I was putting my life at risk.

Rmj said...

Re: that quote from Houston: trust me, he's dead serious, and rightly so.

Molly Ivins described Houston as "L.A. with the climate of Calcutta." Truer words were never spoken. We are in a race here, to solve all "traffic problems" with more and bigger roadways. We will soon have no where to go (having paved over it all), but we'll be able to get there!

Actually walked somewhere in Houston, once. A short distance, and not in downtown Houston (which has a maze of tunnels under it, precisely to avoid walking around downtown).

I'll never do it again. Seriously. Ever read the short story "'X' Marks the Pedwalk"? That's what it was like.

Phila said...

I walked down a long, long street in Houston once...don't know the name, but it was covered in antique shops and thrift stores. I got tired pretty quick.

Thersites said...

When I moved from NYC to Miami, it was like moving to some alien hellscape. In NYC owning a car is a serious pain in the ass, actually. In Miami you need a car almost even before food or shelter. And I remember an earlier version of this study, or a similar one, which had Miami pretty high up on the list of pedestrian fatalities.

Hurrah for progress.