Take Creative Steps to Prioritize Pedestrian Safety

Heidi Simon

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg reminded us of the crisis we’re seeing on roadways across the U.S. when he announced the National Roadway Safety Strategy earlier this year. And, it truly is a crisis. In 2021, we lost an estimated 46,000 people in traffic crashes – the most in nearly two decades.

Among those losses is another devastating fact: Pedestrian fatalities are rising at an even more alarming rate. Pedestrian fatalities increased an estimated 17% in the first six months of 2021 over the same period in 2020.

As safety professionals, we need to act swiftly, decisively and in coordination to reverse this troubling trend and make sure all roadway users are safe.

From the Ground Up

Safety for people who walk and bike can start with some simple, effective changes to streets and sidewalks. A complete, safe and accessible sidewalk network should have:

We definitely don’t want to create an environment or narrative that suggests walking is a lesser form of transportation than others. It is the original form of transportation and deserves its place in transportation planning and support. Make sure that as you support safe walking you are not contributing to the myth of distracted walking or engaging in victim blaming. Remember, at some point in our day we are all pedestrians.

Get Creative and Have Fun

The pedestrian safety crisis is a serious issue, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get creative and have fun while addressing it. Improving pedestrian safety can be an opportunity to paint the town red – and blue, and green and yellow. Colorful streets have been shown to reduce car crashes involving people walking and biking by half.

Practices like a walking school bus – a group of children walking to school with one or more adults – are a great way for communities to come together, get some physical activity, and stay safe while walking. And, of course, mark those calendars for National Walk to School Day May 4. Many also will recognize May 4 as National Bike to School Day since May is Bicycle Safety Month.

Let’s Work Together

It’s going to take all of us to make sure every person makes it home safe at the end of the day. The Road to Zero Coalition has additional resources, recommendations and support to help you engage with other organizations committed to traffic safety, but you can get started today by getting a group together to conduct a walking audit in your neighborhood. Pedestrian safety can start with a single step!

– Heidi Simon is a senior program manager, mobility safety strategy, in the Roadway Practice at the National Safety Council