Hurstbourne Parkway (Broken Sidewalk)
Hurstbourne Parkway (Broken Sidewalk)
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Last week, Transportation for America released a new report, Dangerous by Design, ranking America’s largest metro regions by how dangerous their roads are for pedestrians.  Louisville, one of the smallest metros in the report, ranked 19th worst out of the 52 regions with at least one million inhabitants.

Louisville has a history of neglecting two-footed travelers, and, while it has made improvements (Louisville was ranked 7th worst in 2009), there’s a lot of work left to do. The River City is still more dangerous than all of its mid-western counterparts like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Columbus and worse off, even, than sprawling western cities like Tucson, Kansas City, and Salt Lake City.

The Louisville metropolitan statistical area (MSA), which includes Jefferson, Oldham, and Bullitt counties in Kentucky, as well as Floyd, Clark, Harrison, and Scott counties in Indiana, recorded 192 pedestrian fatalities from 2000 to 2009. That equates to 1.6  fatalities per 100,000 in population, and 11.6 percent of all traffic deaths in the region. These numbers put Louisville squarely in the bottom half of major American cities.

Louisville scored a dismal 95.7 on Transportation for America’s Pedestrian Danger Index, a ratio of the pedestrian fatality rate to the portion of the population that walks to work. This index helps account for the fact that fatality rate alone tells only half the story of pedestrian danger.  If the fatality rate per 100,000 is the same in two different metros but in the first only half as many people walk as the second, then the first city is actually twice as dangerous for pedestrians than the second.

Graph of Louisville Metro pedestrian danger indicators compared with states and regional metros

Inside Kentucky, Louisville claims the top spot in both pedestrian deaths per 100,000 inhabitants an percentage of traffic fatalities that were pedestrians.  Perhaps surprisingly, Lexington came in slightly better Louisville’s rank, while Cincinnati, despite having similar demographics and development patterns, fared much better than both.  In fact, while Cincinnati finished third behind the two major Kentucky cities in pedestrian deaths as a percent of total traffic deaths, its pedestrian fatality rate per 100,000 makes it as safe or safer than every city except Owensboro.

Breaking down the Louisville metropolitan region further brings even more alarming news.  Removing suburban Kentucky and southern Indiana counties, Louisville Metro/Jefferson County, ranks significantly worse than the metro region as a whole.  Jefferson County recorded 2.1 deaths per 100,000 population and its 145 pedestrian fatalities represented a whopping 18.4 percent of all road fatalities between 2000 and 2009.  You can see the data for these graphs here.

Graph of Louisville region pedestrian danger indicators by county

Take heart though, at least we’re not in Florida, whose four major cities claimed each of the top four spots.

The release of the Dangerous by Design report coincides with Congress’ taking up a surface transportation reauthorization bill that could significantly change the way states and metros spend their federally allocated transportation dollars. While the past decade has seen significant increases in outlays for pedestrian and bicycle access in transportation projects, spending in these categories is still miniscule. At the same time, some members of Congress want to remove mandates that states and metros include pedestrian and bicycle access in new highway projects.

At a time when neither America’s government nor its citizens have the financial means to continue our current transportation habits, we should be doing everything to make it safer and easier to walk places. This includes setting aside federal dollars for improvements to pedestrian environments.

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Erik Weber

Erik is a Lexington native, now based out of DC, spending the summer in Louisville.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Louisville desperately needs better enforcement of traffic laws as well. River City drivers have some of the worst habits (lack of turn signal usage, running red lights) of any city I’ve seen. In just four years here, I’ve narrowly avoided several accidents both as a pedestrian and as a motorist. I’ve seen several people blatantly ignoring traffic signals right in front of police officers who ignored it.

  2. Not surprised. Two weeks ago I was walking my dog on Main and Campbell and a lady, not paying attention to what was in front of her, turned the corner right in to us. She said, “I don’t know what I was thinking, I even saw you at the corner.” I think people just don’t pay attention. I have noticed though that there are several intersections where cars park close to the corners so you can’t see traffic that is coming.

  3. When suburbia developed here there was minimal attention to providing sidewalks. So you have suburban suddivisions without sidewalks, opening on to former country lanes, also without sidewalks. You take your life in your hands by walking on something more than a cul-de-sac or residential street, since most roads here lack sidewalks. Look at SW Lousiville. Valley Station area. Many of the roads here, like Old Third Street, Valley Station Road, Pages Lane, etc, lack sidewalks.

  4. Jeff, just the other day I was driving south on Old Third in the Auburndale area, and saw a guy walking on the lefthand side of the road, walking against traffic as he should. I saw that as cars passed him, he jumped out of the way into the grass.

    I felt embarrassed that this road has been like this forever, with apparently nobody even thinking to line the road with continuous sidewalks, at least on one side.

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