Seattle, Boston Top Cities for Pedestrian Safety

By | October 9, 2014

Seattle, where a crowd of football fans celebrating a Super Bowl victory waited at a crosswalk for a signal change this year, is the safest U.S. city for pedestrians, according to a study by Liberty Mutual Holding Co.

The city in Washington state has few pedestrian deaths and has invested in infrastructure that residents say makes walking safer, the insurer said today in releasing the results. Boston was the second-safest among the 25 cities studied, followed by Washington, D.C. Detroit was the most dangerous.

More than 4,700 U.S. pedestrians were killed in 2012, about the same number of fatalities suffered in 2000, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show. About five percent more Americans are walking to work than in 2000, meaning the death rate has declined, according to Census data.

“It’s a combination of many things: infrastructure improvements, education improvements,” Dave Melton, Liberty Mutual’s managing director of global safety, said in an interview. “All of those things have an impact.”

Liberty Mutual said cities were evaluated on traffic data, infrastructure and residents’ perceptions about safety.

More than 108,000 people in Seattle commuted daily on foot in 2008 to 2012, including those who walk to public transportation, Census data show. Nine pedestrians were killed by motorists in 2012. The city has installed more than 500 crosswalks since that year and improved walking routes for schoolchildren, according to the Boston-based insurer’s study.

Orderly Mob

After the Seattle Seahawks won the National Football League championship game in February, throngs of fans took to the streets. The far-from-rowdy crowd was captured on video refusing to jaywalk, instead patiently waiting to cross an intersection.

The incident “may be ultimate proof that Pacific Northwesterners may be too square, even when we’re wildly celebrating a moment of triumph in the streets,” Joseph Rose, a reporter for the Oregonian newspaper, wrote about a video of the celebration he’d posted on the Internet.

New York City, where 54 percent of households don’t have cars, is the fifth-safest city for walkers, according to the Liberty Mutual ranking.

Melton said that countdown lights and flashers at crosswalks help prevent accidents because they force walkers and drivers to focus on the road. Even so, mobile-phone use by both motorists and pedestrians is “rearing its ugly head,” causing accidents and fatalities, he said.

“The human brain doesn’t multitask,” Melton said. “It switches back and forth.”

Mobile Phones

More than two-thirds of motorists say they’ve talked on a mobile phone while in transit, even though most drivers consider such conversations dangerous, Liberty Mutual found in a study published last year. About half of pedestrians say they chatted on the phone while crossing a street.

Liberty Mutual said the findings are based on traffic statistics, data about pedestrian-safety programs and phone interviews in March 2014 with a total of 2,500 residents in the 25 cities. The study was done by research firm ORC International.

Liberty Mutual is the second-largest property-casualty insurer in the U.S. by policy sales, trailing only State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., according to data compiled by A.M. Best. Both companies are owned by their policyholders.

From Liberty Mutual’s Report:

Top 15 Safest U.S. Cities for Pedestrians
  1. Seattle, Wash.
  2. Boston, Mass.
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. San Francisco, Calif.
  5. New York, N.Y.
  6. Portland, Ore.
  7. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  8. Minneapolis, Minn.
  9. Chicago, Ill
  10. Atlanta, Ga
  11. Denver, Colo.
  12. Philadelphia, Pa.
  13. Baltimore, Md.
  14. Columbus, Ohio
  15. Los Angeles, Calif.

Cities that rank the highest boast a combination of legislation and smart city planning, according to researchers. A 2013 Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Survey found that use of technology is the leading cause of distracted pedestrian and driving behaviors. The leading cities in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index have laws in place to either limit or ban texting and talking on the phone while driving. In addition to strict cell phone rules, many have also implemented rigorous safety programs and invested heavily in infrastructure to better protect pedestrians.

  • In Boston, pedestrians walk safely thanks to the installation of 195 traffic-monitoring cameras, more than 3,600 public safety signs posted annually, and more than 90 city traffic signals re-timed in 2013. Residents have taken note of the city’s efforts with 97 percent reporting that the city is proactive in fostering pedestrian safety.
  • The Washington D.C. Department of Transportation has implemented a number of programs aimed at improving the safe flow of city-wide vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles to reduce traffic injuries and accidents. New LED lights have brightened the city streets and the number of bike lanes is expanded each year. These improvements have not gone unnoticed – 95 percent of surveyed Metro D.C. residents agree that the city is taking measures to ensure safety.
  • While four of five San Franciscans consider the city a safe place for pedestrians, 96 percent of those surveyed agree that the city is proactively working to improve safety. Last April, Mayor Ed Lee released the Pedestrian Strategy to reduce pedestrian traffic fatalities by 25 percent by 2016, and 50 percent by 2021 by focusing on fixing 44 miles of the city’s most dangerous streets.
  • Nearly 2.5 million people commute on foot and by public transportation each day in New York City, and 90 percent of those surveyed consider the city to be safe for pedestrians, and another 95 percent agree the city is proactive in ensuring safety. The New York City Department of Transportation’s commitment to improving safety includes hundreds of traffic calming projects, education campaigns, technological applications, stronger regulations, improved street markings and signage, and an expanded network of red light cameras. The city’s efforts are working, and since 2004 New York City has boasted the lowest number of annual traffic deaths since 1910.
  • Portland has empowered citizens to play an important role in increasing safety with the establishment of the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a standing citizen advisory group active since the early 1990s, working to make the city better and safer for pedestrians. The committee’s efforts appear to be effective, as 97 percent of residents and commuters agree that the city is working to keep pedestrians safe.
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Latest Comments

  • October 10, 2014 at 1:53 pm
    Agent says:
    Ask the Boston pedestrians who got blown up by the Terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon if their safety was at risk.
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