How safe are America’s streets and sidewalks for wheelchair users and other pedestrians?

Smart Growth America has released Dangerous by Design 2019, an annual report that ranks metropolitan areas and states according to the “Pedestrian Danger Index,” or PDI. The PDI uses data from a national database of fatal traffic crashes and compares the number of pedestrians struck or killed by drivers with the number of people who live in a particular area and the percentage of people who walk to work.

Findings from Dangerous by Design 2019. Image courtesy Smart Growth America.
Findings from Dangerous by Design 2019. Image courtesy Smart Growth America.

Data from the report indicates that America’s streets and sidewalks are becoming more deadly for pedestrians, even as vehicle passenger fatalities decline.

The problem is much bigger than you might imagine:

Between 2008 and 2017, drivers struck and killed 49,340 people who were walking on streets all across the United States. That’s more than 13 people per day, or one person every hour and 46 minutes. It’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people crashing—with no survivors—every single month.

That’s nearly 50,000 pedestrians killed in 10 years. Why is this happening?

Smart Growth America says that “we are continuing to design streets that are dangerous for all people.” When designing roads, intersections, sidewalks and crosswalks, engineers have prioritized vehicular traffic over pedestrians.

Some communities are more dangerous than others, though. Here are the most dangerous metro areas, ranked according to the Pedestrian Danger Index:


8 of the top 10 most dangerous metro areas are in the State of Florida. Many of the communities appearing in these rankings have sidewalks in disrepair, poorly designed crossings, sidewalks without curb ramps or streets without sidewalks at all. Such negative attributes make getting around more dangerous for pedestrians, but especially for wheelchair users and people with disabilities.

The following states have been deemed the most “dangerous by design” for pedestrians:


Given the rankings of most dangerous metropolitan areas, it should be no surprise that Florida is the most dangerous state for wheelchair users and pedestrians. Poor sidewalk accessibility is one of the barriers mentioned in my 2018 article, For Wheelchair Users in Florida, It’s Not All Sunshine.

With wheelchair users being struck frequently by vehicles all around the country, we can no longer ignore sidewalk accessibility. It is a matter of life and death.

We must work together and demand that our elected officials prioritize pedestrian safety. Federal, state and local departments of transportation must “consistently plan for all people who use the street, including the most vulnerable users.”

Sidewalks are a right of people in all communities, and should not be reserved only for the most affluent neighborhoods. Businesses, communities and politicians must work together to ensure an equitable distribution of resources that will guarantee safety and freedom of movement to all.

Feature image courtesy Getty Images.

Are the sidewalks in your hometown safe?
How often do you have a “close call” with a car in your wheelchair?
Let me know in the comments below!

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