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Report Ranks Memphis as Nation's Fifth Most Deadly City for Pedestrians University News
For release: November 12, 2009

For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901/678-2843

Memphis is the United States’ fifth most dangerous metropolitan area for walking, a new report shows. “Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods)” ranks America’s major metropolitan areas and states according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that assesses how safe they are for walking. An update of the 2004 “Mean Streets” report, “Dangerous by Design” was released by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership.

The report notes that most pedestrian deaths are preventable because they occur on streets that are designed to encourage speeding traffic and lack safe sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian signals and other protections. Fixing these problems is a matter of will on the part of state departments of transportation and local communities, and of shifting spending priorities, the report concludes. National data show that children, older adults, disabled, and low-income Americans are being killed at disproportionate rates. This has public health implications for safety and quality of life for our most vulnerable residents.

“The way our communities and neighborhoods are designed, we have engineered incidental walking out of the everyday lives of most Americans,” said Dr. Marian Levy, director of the Master of Public Health Program at the University of Memphis. “We need to invest in a making our communities safe for walking and bicycling. This would have beneficial health outcomes by reducing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular risk.”

Under the current federal transportation bill, less than 1.5 percent of available funds nationally are directed toward pedestrian safety, although pedestrians account for nearly 12 percent of all traffic deaths and nine percent of total trips. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 700 children under the age of 15 were killed while walking.

The report also examined how states and localities are spending federal money that could be used to make the most dangerous streets safer. While walking conditions remain perilous across the country, many communities are working to make their streets safe and welcoming for people on foot or bicycle, the report shows. Communities across the country are beginning to reverse the dangerous legacy of 50 years of anti-pedestrian policies by retrofitting or building new roads as “complete streets” that are safer for walking and bicycling as well as motorists.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if only 10 percent of our population began a regular walking program, we could save $5.6 billion in national costs associated with heart disease,” said Dr. Lisa Klesges, director of the U of M School of Public Health. “By walking instead of driving, we would also reduce the car emissions and air pollution that exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases.”

Seven organizations served on the steering committee for this report, working closely with Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. These organizations include the American Public Health Association, AARP, Smart Growth America, America Bikes, America Walks, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Local groups supporting the study include Chickasaw Group-Tennessee Sierra Club, Citizens for Transportation Reform, Greater Memphis Greenline, Public Issues Forum, Coalition for Livable Communities, and Walk/Bike Memphis.

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