Wider, straighter, faster… safer? Wha???

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. That quote works well as a bumpersticker, but after reading about a new study on the link between car crashes and low income neighborhoods, one has to wonder whether the automobile is the appropriate conveyance for a message about injustice. Neighborhood Social Inequalities in Road Traffic Injuries: The Influence of Traffic Volume and Road Designto be published in a future issue of the American Journal of Public Health–analyzes 20k crash injuries at 17.5k intersections in Montreal from 1999 to 2003, compares crash rates in the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods (top 1/5 vs bottom 1/5), and arrives at troubling conclusions.

  • If you are in a car in a poor neighborhood you are 4.3x more likely to be injured than if you were driving in a wealthier neighborhood.
  • If you are biking the risk is 3.9x greater.
  • If you are walking the risk is 6.3x greater.

Why? Traffic volume and speed.

  • Average traffic at intersections in the poorest neighborhoods is 2.4x greater than their wealthier counterparts.
  • Thirty percent of intersections in the poorest neighborhoods included a major artery, compared with just over 11 percent in the wealthier neighborhoods.
Last year the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition came to a similar conclusion after analyzing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and median household income. They looked at data from 2000 to 2008. Add to all this what we already know about the damaging health effects suffered by those living in close proximity to high volume roadways–low birthweight, delayed development, cardiovascular disease, asthma, stress–and the conclusion becomes almost inescapable: the road in front of your home is your health destiny.

What to do?

At Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012, Joseph Readdy will lead a 90 minute work session that will examine the AASHTO orthodoxy that “every effort should be made to use as high a design speed as practical in the interests of safety…” [A Policy on the Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, AASHTO, 2004, p. 67]… and consider the alternatives for balancing mobility of all users with the safety of all users on our urban roadways. This is going to be a good session. I’m thrilled that ITE’s student chapters will in attendance for this one.

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