Politics

A Right to Safe Transportation Options

The third in a three-part series on the new report on pedestrian safety from Transportation from America, “Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods).”

I’d like to wrap up this series on the T4A report by talking about an aspect of transportation policy that rarely makes the headlines: mobility as a basic human right. The report dives into the subject and offers up some very helpful facts and figures:

On a per-mile basis, walking in unsafe conditions is ten times as dangerous as driving. Further, at least one-third of people cannot or choose not to drive, and for most of them, walking is their primary method for getting around. This group includes children and young adolescents, older Americans who no longer drive, Americans with disabilities that prevent them from driving, racial and ethnic minorities, lower income Americans and a growing number of Americans seeking to avoid the high (and rising) cost of owning and maintaining a car.

Despite the fact that this makes it sound as if racial and ethnic minorities are somehow innately unable to drive (rather than the fact that they are overrepresented among the low-income communities also listed), it’s a really important point. This feels very much of a piece with the federal guidelines to building accessibility, but is in fact far more fundamental to non-drivers’ day-to-day lives. This is why the AARP took an active role in the compilation of the report by placing its representatives on the steering committee. In their own privately conducted poll, AARP found that 40% of adults 50+ years old reported inadequate access to sidewalks and over 50% noted the absence safe street crossings in their neighborhoods.

It’s rare to see an organization as politically powerful AARP lining up its interests with those of low-income minority communities. But switching our development strategies to complete streets and smart growth really does benefit an incredibly broad swath of Americans by allowing them to move freely to and from work, the store, or school.

Perhaps it was the added weight of having AARP’s name on the acknowledgments page, but Transportation Secretary LaHood himself met with the writers of the report from T4A to discuss their findings. That’s pretty extraordinary as was his unequivocal support for the proposals offered by T4A to address this “epidemic of preventable deaths,” noting that he thinks Congress is finally getting on board as well.

Tags: infrastructuretransportationgovernanceurban planningpedestrian safety