From Mean Streets to Sweet Streets

Every year, more than 75 pedestrians are killed and 1,000 injured in the Washington metropolitan area, according to the Coalition for Smarter Growth in its report, “Washington’s Mean Streets.” There is a close correlation between land use patterns and the incidence of pedestrian accidents, especially fatal ones.

Calculating a “pedestrian danger index” based upon pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people and adjusted for the percentage of the population that walks to work, the Coalition for Smarter Growth compiled the following rankings (from most dangerous to safest) of the region’s largest jurisdictions:

1. Fairfax County: 44.1
2. Prince George’s County, Md.: 42.6
3. Prince William County: 33.1
4. Montgomery County, Md.: 24.4
5. Loudoun County: 20.6
6. District of Columbia: 10.0
7. Arlington County: 9.6
8. Alexandria: 7.8

For remedies, the Coalition recommends:

  • Fix the worst places. Indentify and fix high-crash/high-risk intersections and roadways.
  • Complete the streets: Ensure that all streets and intersections are built and operated for the safety and convenience of all users, not just automobiles.
  • Institutionalize changes: Update standards in all relevant planning, design,and maintenance manuals. Invest in training all transportation and development reviewprofessionals on new complete streets policies. Replace vehicle “level of service” measures with multi-modal performance measures.
  • Build mixed-use walkable places: Local governments should guide new development and retrofit existing development to create mixed-use, walkable environments that make walking, bicycling, and access to transit safe and convenient choices. The long-term solution to pedestrian safety problems lies in creating places that offer a comfortable and walkable environment in which homes, businesses, services, and community facilities are linked by a highly connected street grid of short blocks, lined with street-oriented buildings and pedestrian-scaled civic spaces.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Could Fairfax County take actions to improve sidewalks and street crossings? Absolutely.

    But this bogus index is yet one more stunt by the C4MG to justify super-sizing Tysons Corner despite the lack of adequate public facilities. Putting more people into Tysons Corner with its wide streets and increased number of automobile traffic will only make walking more dangerous.

    Save Fairfax, Pave the Piedmont!


  2. “Ensure that all streets and intersections are built and operated for the safety and convenience of all users, not just automobiles.”

    So pedestrians are road users too. Therefore, we need to start equipping them with transponders and charge them user fees. As a side benefit, this would discourage unnecessary walking — which generates CO2 — and reduce the chance of accidents.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Is Loudoun safer because it is mostly newer and built to newer specs? More bike trails, etc.

    Is the District safer because people are afraid to go outside?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    This study smells like nannyisim to me

    I dont have any facts to back this up but I think driving is much more dangerous than being a pedestrian. So are we going to start spending money to train better drivers too?


  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    anyone every notice how access and mobility works at a WalMart or Costco or just about any big box/complex with acres of auto parking?

    They’re basically designed from the get go for ONE kind of mobility.

    How else would you carry a shopping car full of groceries home?

    The fact that there are NO separate/protected facilities for walking and getting your groceries to your car.. and a car lane is purposely put in front of the stores – a more friendly pedestrian no-mans-land but with the same basic operating conditions…

    …roadway first.. built/designed/operated explicitly as a primary auto facility FIRST and use as a pedestrian access – expected of course – but you’re clearly walking across a road as opposed to auto’s driving across a pedestrian facility…

    .. why does the auto get preference?

    why not sidewalks in front of the retail and pedestrian “roadways” to the parking lot LIKE you expect with a grid street … traditional urban retail complex?

    It’s not that you physically cannot ban auto traffic from the entrances of the retail… you clearly can..

    but why is it not?

    why does Walmart not only provide for convenient drop/off pick up but every single parking lane .. all of them connect to the frontage road?

    You could have every parking lane blocked at the frontage road AND a access sidewalk at the front ends of the parking… for the handicapped.. you’d still have the closest spots dedicated and/or you can even have a separate pick-up/drop off separate from the sidewalks.

    I really don’t expect folks to be able to visualize from my lame articulation here but I’d ask the question – “Is the current access and mobility for retail shopping – OPTIMIZED and there is no way to improve it”?

    and I suspect that there are, in fact, lots of ways to improve it – and, in fact, jurisdictions could mandate it in their codes… but with the exception of a few areas in the US.. typically not done.

    I say this.. believing that the contemporary big box/regional mall/shopping center.. is a legitimate business model – as opposed to those who feel that the idea of buying a shopping cart full of dozens of items from a one-stop retail.. is.. itself wrong.. and that the older model of separate shops for similar items.. and you go from shop to shop to get your stuff then WALK back to your car and load your stuff from the sidewalk side…

    That’s why I get sometimes .. listening to the settlement pattern folks.. that the idea of big bog itself is fundamentally wrong and part and parcel of the auto-centric culture.. and a major obstacle to building pedestrian-friendly facilities and shopping.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry is right about the auto lane right in frront of the store entrance. this never made sense to me: the cars cant get through for the pedstrians the pedestrians can’t get through for the cars.

    It would seem the stores would realize they get more throughput by putting the circulator land for cars in the middle or outer edge of the lot and have walking lanes leading to the store. The exception being Lowes or Home Depot where the purchases are often bulky or heavy. Even so, they could have walking lanes to get to the store and loading docks for purchases separate.

    Larry touches on another issue; the idea of separate stores (and separate trips) for similar items. Why does anyone think this would reduce sprawl and VMT? wouldn’t you need MORE space and MORE parking for all those boutique shops? Isn’t that one reason why Walmart & co are so much more efficient and less expensive?

    I hold the position that if a function is more expensive, it probably uses more resources, and therefore is probably less environmentally friendly.


  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    continuing from RH. observations..

    when I look at my grocery cart – and I invite others to do the same… and ask myself.. what if I had to do a separate auto trip.. for many of the items… would that be a “good” thing?

    The big boxes.. now offer.. prescriptions, banking, optical, hair grooming, pedicures, delis, McDonalds, Starbucks.. etc…

    Doesn’t this REDUCE auto trips?

    Many strip shopping centers are neighborhood-based – and offer.. groceries, pizza, cleaners, etc…
    again.. saving multiple trips to separate destinations.

    The major auto TRIP that is the focus of most of the debate on congestion and roads .. is NOT the trip to Walmart but Walmart seems to be the focus of many who decry auto-dependent settlement patterns.

    But.. on the pedestrian for these stores.. we could code and law.. REQUIRE pedestrian-protected facilities.. and relegate the auto to where it can park.. and you can walk to and from it… as opposed to you driving through pedestrians to egress.

    So.. on one hand.. we beat up VDOT over their pedestrian policies but we give businesses a free ride on theirs.

    I’ve even heard arguments that there are no sidewalks to a WalMart but even if there were – you’d end up in a pedestrian-hostile parking lot – no?

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Isn’t one of the main reasons why most stores, including WalMart, have auto access right in front of the store to accommodate shoppers? Quite often I see people stopping to pick up a large item. It’s too hard to move big, bulky or heavy items through the parking lot. Second, many times drivers will drop off passengers right in front of store, especially when its raining or snowing, or when the passengers might have a harder time walking through the parking lot — such as when they are elderly or are toting a couple of small kids.

    Not sure a government regulation can/should fix this. If so, please explain.

    I think that much of the Walmart bash comes from labor unions that simply have not been able to crack Walmart. Having worked in a closed shop state and been forced to pay union dues for no visible benefits, I carry a long-standing and strong dislike for labor unions. Even as a part-timer, I had to pay full union dues, including for the periods of time after inventory when I would be laid off each year. I remember a couple of pay checks that essentially went solely to pay union dues. The fact that unions cannot successfully organize Walmart brings joy to my heart still.

    Walmart sure isn’t perfect and I don’t shop there very often, but it has revolutionized retailing and offers lower prices to consumers. That’s not all bad.


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