Greater Detroit is the nation’s 11th most dangerous metro area for pedestrians, according to an assessment of 51 metros released last week by the National Complete Streets Coalition. The findings underscore the need for better-designed streets in Michigan that allow safe travel for all users.
Dangerous by Design 2014 focuses on pedestrian fatalities stemming from streets designed solely for the fast passage of cars, ignoring other non-motorized users of roadways. In particular, the report finds that overwhelmingly the groups disproportionately affected by dangerous design are children, the elderly and minorities.
Beyond highlighting this problem, the report also seeks out solutions, pointing out that pedestrian deaths are preventable “by taking deliberate steps, through better policy, design, practice, and regulation.” States can begin to ensure that roads are designed with pedestrians and cyclists in mind, by setting aggressive goals to make sure action is taken. The report adds that committing to a complete streets policy “fully integrates the needs of all users, regardless of mode, age, or ability.”
Over 90 communities in Michigan have adopted local complete streets policies. Implementing these local policies is a great way to address the issue. However, according to the report, similar solutions are needed at the federal level, too. Almost 68% of fatal pedestrian accidents between 2003 and 2012 were on roadways funded by federal money, and designed according to federal standards. The report states that federal standards often block or challenge local and state governments from creating a safer environment.
Having a space designed for non-motorized roadway users can significantly aid the principles of complete streets. “A system that is designed for all users—not just cars—that includes bike lanes, sidewalks, and safe crossings is key to reducing this statistic and making it more safe and enjoyable to bike, walk, or roll in Michigan,” said John Lindenmayer, advocacy and policy director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists. He noted that about 2,000 bicyclists are injured each year in crashes in Michigan.
Another valuable option beyond traditional streets and sidewalks for a variety of users is trails. Michigan contains 6.6% of all the trails in the country, including 6,204 snowmobile trails, 2,712 miles of open rail trail and 1,300 miles of bike trail. The Traverse City region alone has over 24 miles of connected, paved, multi-use paths or trails that can be used to get around town. The complete separation of motorized transport from pedestrians and cyclists can increase safety and encourage more individuals to give these types of transport a try.
Trails can also aid the state economy as an important alternative commute to work. TART Trails, a Trans4M Member, intends their trails to be functional alternatives to using a car as transport for work and other daily errands. Arianne Whittaker, Marketing and Outreach Director at TART, says “We’re seeing more people using trails to get around town due to awareness and interest in alternative transportation, and improved non-motorized infrastructure.” She adds, “Trails are a great way to commute especially when they are integrated into a well-designed network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities and public transit.”Another Trans4M member, the Michigan Trail and Greenways Alliance (MTGA) is a nonprofit that works to create a statewide interconnected network of trails and greenways, and recognizes the importance of trails to the state economy. Todd Scott, Detroit Greenways Coordinator at MTGA, believes trails and greenways “promote economic development and create jobs,” as “more and more new businesses are looking to locate in cities where their employees can bike or walk.”
Trails offer a viable and safe travel alternative for pedestrians and cyclists, but they do not address the dangerous design behind the roads themselves. Dangerous by Design advocates for more comprehensive changes to street design in Michigan that make communities safer for those choosing non-motorized forms of transit.
For Detroit, being ranked the 11th most dangerous metro area for pedestrians is not something to brush off as just another knock on a city going through a rough patch all around. This is another opportunity for growth both in the City of Detroit and throughout our state. Detroit Free Press reporter John Gallagher recently wrote about the high volume of streets with excess capacity. Gallagher suggested options such as dedicated transit lanes and bike lanes on roads where there are plenty of car lanes to spare. One of the best parts about this opportunity is that it is applicable both in Detroit’s urban core and in many of its residential neighborhoods.
To view the full Dangerous by Design 2014 report, please click here.
Written by Elle Getschman, Trans4M Intern