Detroit Needs Complete and Safer Streets Now

Worst US Cities for Pedestrian FatalitiesLast month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their 2013 Traffic Safety Facts for Pedestrians report.

The statistics are grim. Every two hours a pedestrian is killed in the U.S. Fourteen percent of all road fatalities are pedestrians and that continues to trend upwards.

Among U.S. cities above 500,000 people, Detroit has the highest pedestrian fatality rate. It’s not even close. With 6.1 fatalities per 100,000 people, Detroit is well above second-place Jacksonville at 3.92.

Sadly enough, Detroit fatality rate has risen every year since 2010 when it was “only” 3.2 fatalities per 100,000.

This is a major public safety issue that everyone has a role in solving.

  • Last year Detroit City Council updated and modernized its traffic ordinances – a good first step. We expect them to take up a Complete Streets ordinance this year that makes the city consider all modes of transportation when reconstructing roadst.
  • To its credit, the Department of Public Works has been building Complete Streets projects in high-crash areas. As the statistics show, more work needs to be done. Even adding more bike lanes and road diets can help reduce speeding and make it easier for pedestrians to cross Detroit’s often wide streets.
  • Improvements in public lighting should also help reduce pedestrian crashes. Since 2010, over 80% of Detroit’s pedestrian fatalities have occurred at night and nearly half of those were in unlit areas.
  • We urge Mayor Mike Duggan to join the other 177 cities that have already signed on to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mayors’ Challenge. This is a nationwide effort to create more seamless, convenient and safe biking and walking communities. The city with the worst pedestrian fatality rate needs to be at this table.
  • Residents and businesses should commit to clearing snow and ice from their sidewalks. During the summer, sidewalks should be cleared of debris and vegetation trimmed for good sight lines. Pedestrians are more likely to use sidewalks when they feel safe on them.
  • impact-of-speed-on-pedestrians1And lastly, all motorists need to use extra caution around pedestrians and bicyclists. Everyone needs to drive the speed limit. A “harmless” five MPH over is not harmless. At 20 MPH, a pedestrian has a 5% chance of being killed. It’s 45% at 30 MPH and 85% at 40 MPH. Unlike the Metro Detroit suburbs, most city streets have low posted speed limits. We’d like to see more people following them. Speed does kill.

Detroit has the basic underlying structure for a very walkable city. We just need to make sure it’s safe for everyone in every neighborhood. It’s about quality of life, social equity, and public health – and it needs to be everyone’s priority.

We submitted the above commentary nearly a couple weeks ago to one of Detroit’s major papers. That paper never returned our emails or voice mail, so we decided to publish it ourselves. That paper did publish their own commentary on the “full-blown public safety emergency” of potholes and bridges — neither of which can match the 312 pedestrians and 26 bicyclists killed on Detroit roads during the past decade.