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2020 drastically changed walking in suburbs, but brought new safety challenges

The pandemic brought about a lot of changes in the way we use our streets, but a recent report shows that it changed walking in suburbs more than in city centers.

Cailin Crowe, writing for Smart Cities Dive, has a summary:

  • Walking in city centers or downtowns remained high throughout the pandemic, and fluctuated just 10% compared to 2019. But the rate of pedestrian activity outside of city centers saw the most dramatic changes in 2020 compared to 2019, with some pedestrian activity increasing or decreasing by up to 100%.
  • In the Orlando area, for example, pedestrians were 19 times more likely to be hit by a driver in the surrounding Holden Heights area compared to Orlando’s city center.

Reading this, I suspect that suburbs saw the largest fluctuations because their pedestrian numbers were lower to begin with. It’s easier to double a small number than it is to double a large number.

But the real story seems to be that the increased activity also brought increased deadliness. This supports what we already know: our streets are deadly by design. In suburbs, especially, streets are engineered for moving cars as quickly as possible. This comes at the expense of the safety of everyone else on the streets.

If people want to walk, whether it’s in downtowns or in suburbs, then we certainly need to make sure they can do so safely. Crowe puts it well in her article: “To make streets safer, local leaders should consider lowering speeds, narrowing travel lanes, adding crosswalks and avoiding broad curves at intersections.”