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Debunking Traffic Safety Myths as Pedestrian Fatalities Increase

Angie Schmitt, former editor at Streetsblog USA, has written a new book about pedestrian fatalities, which works to dispel some of the myths about traffic safety in the United States.
September 9, 2020, 12pm PDT | Lee Flannery | @leecflannery
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Angie Schmitt's new book, Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America, sets out to answer a question to which many people believe they have the right answer: What causes the 50% increase in pedestrian deaths in the last decade, and what can we do to reduce these deaths?

According to Schmitt, most people will point to cell phones. But that's not accurate. "Instead, it’s a convergence of trends: Cars are getting bigger, drivers are going faster, roads are getting wider, and more people are moving to transit-lacking suburbs and Sun Belt cities," writes Alissa Walker. Walker goes on to share the stories of two mothers whose children were killed by drivers in order to illustrate the ways in which race informs the response to such tragic events.

Crashes can be prevented by way of improving crosswalks, the use of medians, and narrowing traffic lanes. "The bigger challenge, Schmitt argues, is addressing the systemic racism built into cities," says Walker. Inherent to the idea of pedestrian safety in the United States is the concept of enforcement. The idea that you can shame or finger wag someone out of engaging in such deadly and dangerous behavior as speeding is simply not true or effective, according to Stockholm official Daniel Firth. 

Instead, the United States should follow something closer to Sweden’s Vision Zero program, which prioritizes data and infrastructure redesign to eliminate traffic deaths, suggests Schmitt. Even more importantly, it needs to be a people-centered process to change the fact that, for decades, "transportation decisions have now been made without proper representation from the communities most affected, from local agencies to the government bodies that set the country’s policy agenda," as Walker puts it.

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Published on Thursday, September 3, 2020 in Curbed
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