While appearing at the 2014 Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference in Pittsburgh this past September, Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), announced the creation of DOT’s "Safer People, Safer Streets" pedestrian and bike safety action plan.
"This initiative is aimed at reversing the recent rise in deaths and injuries among the growing number of Americans who bicycle or walk to work, to reach public transportation and to other important destinations,” Foxx said, adding that there’s a need for "definable places for folks to travel however they’re traveling." After all, he notes. "Everyone is a pedestrian."
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About his department’s increased focus on bike-pedestrian issues, Foxx has written, "If you are walking or bicycling, you should know that your safety is every bit as important — and just as much of a concern to the U.S. Department of Transportation — as the safety of an airplane passenger, a transit rider or someone in a motor vehicle.”
Foxx himself once had a close call as a pedestrian when, during his first term as mayor of Charlotte, N.C., he was jogging before work and a car making a turn clipped him as he crossed a road. ("I stopped for a moment and checked out my knee to make sure it wasn’t injured," recalls Foxx, noting that he, not the car, had the right of way. “I kept running but you should have seen the car. It was really in bad shape.”)
The 18-month bike and pedestrian safety campaign features road safety assessments conducted by DOT field offices in every state. Among the initiative’s goals are to identify the locations of nonmotorized transportation gaps — such as roadways that lack sidewalks and the so-called “last mile” safety hazards faced by people traveling to and from public transportation hubs. (For details, and to see a photo of a work-clad Secretary Foxx riding a bicycle, download the plan summary.)
1. The new DOT safety initiative focuses on pedestrians and bicyclists, road users who are often overlooked in transportation projects. Can you describe the initiative and what led you to take it on? How will the initiative make a difference for older Americans, which is an age group that has both the highest pedestrian fatality rate and a strong interest in staying healthy and active?
We’re serious when it comes to safety, no matter how people get around — in the car, on the bus, by bike or on foot. Unfortunately, fatality numbers are increasing for cyclists and pedestrians at a time when overall traffic fatalities are decreasing.
There’s no question that we want to encourage biking and walking, as these forms of transportation support many of our national goals: They’re environmentally friendly, they’re great for health, they help reduce transportation costs and, most importantly, they connect people to opportunities. But, we need to ensure that people can do both safely.
We believe our initiative will have a great benefit for older Americans, who make up a disproportionate number of pedestrian fatalities. We want to encourage not only older Americans but also all people to walk more; in order to do that, we need to ensure there are safe places for them to walk or ride bicycles. That means making sure sidewalks are well lit and maintained, that crosswalks are frequent and safely designed and that the network is safe for everyone.
2. How will the initiative benefit Americans of different income levels, ages, abilities and geographic areas? What health or economic benefits do you foresee, for both individuals and communities at large?
We’re setting out to improve our understanding of where people are able to bike and walk safely, and where there are gaps in those networks. Recent research has shown that there is a lack of safe sidewalks in lower-income communities — so fixing that is a critical way to improve both safety and economic opportunities in those areas, where people may rely on walking or taking the bus as a primary form of transportation.
The health benefits are significant. If you live in a community that isn’t walkable or bikeable, the research shows there’s a good likelihood you’ll face a higher risk of obesity. A lack of physical activity also contributes to diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many other chronic health conditions.
Providing safe options to walk or bike also allows people to save money on transportation. According to AAA, the cost to own and operate a car is nearly $10,000 every year. Walking and biking offer affordable alternatives to access jobs, education and services. They can also be a big part of community revitalization. All over the country towns and cities are creating safe, walkable downtowns and main streets that attract businesses and form the base for economic development.