'Everyone Is a Pedestrian': Gov't Spending $2M to Increase Communities' 'Walkability'

By Susan Jones | August 6, 2013 | 8:34 AM EDT

(Photo from NHTSA Website)

(CNSNews.com) - Concerned about a rise in pedestrian fatalities at a time when walking  is strongly encouraged ("Let's Move!"), the Obama administration is spending $2 million to give local communities the "resources and the tools they need" to prevent pedestrian deaths.

The effort -- dubbed "Everyone Is a Pedestrian" -- goes beyond public awareness campaigns that tell you to look both ways before crossing the street.

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The new safety grants "will allow communities to take actions to make their city safer and better places to walk," said David Strickland, director of the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), who spoke at a news conference on Monday.

Some of the "resources to increase walkability" mentioned at Monday's news conference include "better infrastructure for pedestrians," such as highway medians,  pavement markings and new traffic signals.

And NHTSA's "Everyone Is a Pedestrian" website offers a "Walkability Checklist," which reads like a "how-to" guide for budding community activists.

The checklist helps walkers identify problems in their neighborhoods (such as "too much automobile exhaust") and pursue solutions (have kids learn about unhealthy ozone days and the Air Quality Index). More on that in a moment.

"Most of us know to keep our distance from moving traffic," Strickland said on Monday, "yet our data shows that upward trend (in) pedestrian deaths, with an increase of 8 percent since 2009."

The $2 million in grants will be doled out to cities where the rate of pedestrian fatalities is higher than the national average. The total level of funding for each grant will depend on the quality of the proposal submitted.

Take a hike

"Everyone benefits from walking," says the "Walkability Checklist" available on NHTSA's website. It mentions improved fitness, cleaner air, reduced risks of certain health problems, and a greater sense of community. "But walking needs to be safe and easy," the checklist continues. "Take a walk with your child and use this checklist to decide if your neighborhood is a friendly place to walk."

After deciding on a route, walkers are encouraged to "note the locations of things you would like to change."

The checklist poses five questions: (1) Did you have room to walk? (2) Was it easy to cross streets? (3) Did drivers behave well? (4) Was it easy to follow safety rules?

And then there's question number 5 -- "Was your walk pleasant?"

The checklist suggests the following answers to question 5: "Needed more grass, flowers or trees;" "Scary dogs"; "Scary people"; "Not well lighted"; "Dirty, lots of litter or trash"; and "Dirty air due to automobile exhaust."

After identifying problems along the route with the help of the checklist, walkers are encouraged to pursue solutions, some of them long-term:

Returning to question 5: If the walk was not "pleasant," walkers are urged to "report scary dogs to the animal control department," "report scary people to the police," pick up trash along the route, "plant trees, flowers in your yard," start a crime watch program, "organize a community clean-up day," "sponsor a neighborhood beautification or tree-planting day," "begin an adopt-a-street program," "and lobby for routes to school with reduced traffic during school commute times.

People who didn't have room enough to walk (question 1) are urged to speak up at board meetings; write or petition the city for walkways and gather neighborhood signatures; make media aware of the problem; and work with a local transportation engineer to develop a plan for safe walking routes.

People who found it difficult to cross the street (question 2) are urged to "leave nice notes on problem cars asking owners not to park there," and push for crosswalks/signals/parking changes/curb ramps at city meetings, among other action points.

If drivers did not "behave well," walkers are urged to petition for more enforcement, investigate traffic-calming ideas, and "organize a neighborhood speed watch program."

If safety rules were difficult to follow, walkers are urged to "organize parents in your neighborhood to walk children to school," "help schools start safe walking programs," and "encourage corporate support for flex schedules so parents can walk children to school."

The checklist ends with a "quick health check." Among the suggestions for people who tire easily after a walk: "Get media to do a story about the health benefits of walking," "call parks and recreation department about community walks," "encourage corporate support for employee walking programs," "plant shade trees along routes," "have a sun safety seminar for kids," and "have kids learn about unhealthy ozone days and the Air Quality Index (AQI)."

'National action is needed'

Yolanda Savage-Narva, the director of America Walks, a group that advocates for safe walking environments, told Monday's news conference that "pedestrian safety is a critical issue that must be addressed."

"Now, I'm a native of Jackson, Mississippi, where because of the absence of sidewalks and even crosswalks on some major side streets, walking can be a dangerous, even scary activity," Savage-Narva said. "National action is needed and can only be led by the Department of Transportation and working in partnership with state, local, tribal and community organizations."

America Walks, along with Kaiser Permanente and other groups, plans to hold a "National Walking Summit" in  October. "The goal of this summit is to promote walking, walkability and safe environments," Savage-Narva said.

"We hope the walking summit will serve as a valuable forum to advance the idea that every one is a pedestrian, and safe, walkable environments are required to get people to walk more," she said. "We need a collective vision and a collective voice to reverse the unsettling trends and make our communities, neighborhoods and environment safe for everyone."

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the news conference that the $2 million grant program and the "Everyone Is a Pedestrian" campaign will raise awareness and save lives:

"And this is only the beginning," he said. "This fall I'm be joining America Walks at their pedestrian safety summit, where I hope we can have a broader conversation about what we can do to turn this trend around. Every pedestrian death is one too many. Let's do what we can to prevent these tragedies."

Also See:

First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move’ Blog Tells People: Walk, Don’t Drive (16  Nov. 2012)

Obama's Housing Agency Spending Millions to Transform Inner Cities Into ‘Sustainable Communities’ (12 Oct. 2012)