By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square
(The Center Square) — An approach to reducing traffic deaths is catching on in cities across the country great and small, but not in Pennsylvania.
Doing so would require city leaders across to de-emphasize motorists and speed, and focus on upgrading sidewalk and biking infrastructure instead.
A report from Smart Growth America details “complete streets” initiatives across America, which encourage municipalities to learn from other cities on what makes communities more pedestrian-friendly and lowers fatal car collisions.
Complete streets is an approach to road design that takes into account pedestrian and cyclist concerns to increase safety. The goal is to create “safe and healthy and accessible options to get people where they need to go,” SGA Director of Thriving Communities Heidi Simon said. “Complete streets is a process, not a single policy.”
The approach has found success in some areas with a reputation for car dependency.
In Tucson, Arizona, a push for pedestrian safety eventually revised the process for building streets to make them safer, with binding policy language for engaging community members and changing roads.
Howard County, Maryland revised its design manual to give more priority to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Responding to a high and growing number of pedestrian deaths, leaders in El Paso, Texas built out “road diets” to give people more space to walk and to slow down drivers.
A complete streets policy emphasizes changes in the process of how a road gets built, but much of the underlying drive for change comes from safety concerns.
“Having a robust Complete Streets policy is more important than it’s ever been as our streets and roads continue to grow historically dangerous,” the report argued. “According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2021 was the deadliest year on American roadways since 2005, with just under 43,000 deaths.”
Pennsylvania isn’t exempt from that trend. In 2023, the commonwealth saw a slight fall in traffic deaths after years of increases, The Center Square previously reported. The trend for pedestrians, however, didn’t. Since 2019, pedestrian deaths in Pennsylvania have increased by 21%.
“Pedestrian fatalities reached the second highest number in 20 years,” PennDOT noted for 2022.
Driving those numbers down won’t necessarily look like what other cities have done, but it will require a change.
“Smart Growth America really believes that a complete streets policy isn't going to look the same way for every community,” Simon said, “but it is important for every community to have a complete streets policy that supports its vision.”