Transportation

Another Study Cites Houston As A Dangerous Place To Walk

Houston metro area ranks high in the number of pedestrian fatalities.

Pedestrians in downtown Houston are quick to chime in when asked about their scary experiences crossing the street. We caught up with Alan Scanio at the Downtown Transit Center. Scanio says most of his walks are uneventful but there was that one time:

“I was almost hit by a car once crossing a one-way street. He was making a left and didn’t look to see there was a pedestrian in the walkway. I’ve been guilty of that myself in other cities.”

Scanio was able to get out of the way, but not all Houston pedestrians are so lucky. A new study from the National Complete Streets Coalition ranks the Houston metro area as the 7th most dangerous place in the country for people on foot.

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Pedestrians cross the street near Houston’s Downtown Transit Center.

Figures show over 1,000 pedestrians in the greater Houston area were killed between 2003 and 2012. That accounts for close to 17 percent of all of the metro area’s traffic fatalities. 

So why is Houston such a dangerous place to walk? We asked Juanita Jimenez-Soto with AARP Texas.

“Intersections were really designed primarily for vehicles, not for people walking or maybe riding their bike.”

Jimenez-Soto says she’s worried in particular about people who have no choice but to walk, such as older people who don’t drive anymore. The study shows between 2003 and 2010, close to 600 pedestrian deaths in Texas were people over the age of 65. 

“People have to get from their home over to the bus station, or even just walk to the grocery store to get what they need, and by doing so they’re putting themselves in harm’s way without knowing.”

Transportation experts say one reason for the high fatality rate is that Houston has a lot of busy streets with multiple lanes. Figures show 64 percent of pedestrian fatalities happened on streets with speed limits of 40 miles per hour or higher.

That’s a concern for Jay Crossley with the advocacy group Houston Tomorrow. Crossley says on streets with high speed limits, people are often tempted to drive even faster.

“So for example, Richmond Avenue, where our office is, the speed limit there is 30 (miles per hour) but most people drive 50.  That’s a direct result of the way the street is designed.”

And Crossley says the trick is to build streets that encourage people to slow down.

“If you design streets well, drivers will just drive the speed that seems right and they won’t be frustrated. Where if you design your entire system to encourage everyone to drive too fast, then they get mad if they’re not going 50 miles an hour.”

Responding to the concerns of walkers and cyclists, Mayor Annise Parker last year announced her Complete Streets initiative. Parker issued an executive order calling on city planners to keep all users in mind when designing future street improvements.

 

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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