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U.S. Transportation Chief Urges Mayors to Make Pedestrians a Priority

With pedestrian and cyclist deaths on the rise, Anthony Foxx challenged mayors to make the roads safer for both.

Buford Highway in suburban Atlanta ranks among the nation's deadliest corridors.
Buford Highway in suburban Atlanta ranks among the nation's deadliest corridors.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a former Charlotte mayor, asked a national gathering of mayors Thursday to commit to improving the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in their communities.

“Overall, automobile crashes have declined in the last five years, but the number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed by automobiles has actually risen,” he told a packed conference room at a Washington summit of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Bicyclist deaths increased by 15 percent between 2009 and 2014, while pedestrian deaths during that time rose by 16 percent, Foxx noted.

“Almost 5,000 bikers, runners and walkers are dying on the sides of roads each year, and most of them places you’re from -- in cities,” where three-quarters of those deaths occur, he said.

The transportation secretary said the issue was especially important for people who have few transportation options other than to bike or walk.

“For some people at the margins, this is the way they get around. Unfortunately those same people find that there are no safe places to walk or bike in many cases,” he said. Low-income neighborhoods are twice as likely as high-income neighborhoods to lack basic infrastructure to protect cyclists and pedestrians, features such as sidewalks, cross walks and stop lights.

A Governing analysis of accident location coordinates for the more than 22,000 pedestrians killed nationwide between 2008 and 2012, showed that poorer neighborhoods have disproportionately higher rates of pedestrian deaths. In the nation’s metro areas, the bottom third of Census tracts, in terms of per capita income, recorded pedestrian fatality rates twice that of higher income tracts.

To combat the rise in pedestrian and cyclist deaths, Foxx wants the mayors to start incorporating measures to help cyclists and pedestrians. The initiative, called the Mayors' Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets, asks participating mayors to take seven steps to address the concerns. Those steps range from gathering data to building bike lanes to improving bike and pedestrian safety laws.

Foxx called on the mayors to develop policies, “so that every time you build a road, your planners and engineers are thinking whether bicyclists and pedestrians would be safe on them.”

Transportation planners should be thinking of questions such as: “Are there sidewalks? Are those sidewalks easy for those with disabilities to access? Are the sides of the road be too dark at night?” he said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will hold a summit in March for mayors and staff for cities participating in the program.

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