- Photo: Jay Wescott
GOOD Magazine has run a graphic showing the most pedestrian-unfriendly cities in America. Their spread, linked at Time today, is based on figures for pedestrian fatalities included in the exhaustive safety study recently done by planners in New York City. In that study, Washington lands at #7 on a list of the most dangerous large cities for walking, just behind Chicago. No word on whether there’s any correlation between our high pedestrian danger level and our other new ranking as the 15th most stressful city in America, according to Portfolio.com. Big week for livability lists, eh?
We’re not crazy about such lists because they’re usually rife with methodology problems. The pedestrian safety list should be an easy one -- just tally up the number of pedestrians who are mowed down in each jurisdiction, then rank them in deaths-per-capita order, right? Trouble is, we’re confused by the figures for Washington, D.C. In the list we’re pegged with 5.7 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents, which, working off the city’s population of 600,000, would give us about 34 ped deaths each year. But according to D.C. police figures, the District usually hovers somewhere between 10 and 20 such fatalities annually, rarely reaching the mid-20’s.
So maybe the researchers considered us a metro area and lumped in D.C.’s surrounding jurisdictions, as they often do when compiling lists. Then where do you draw the line? Do you include Arlington but not Fairfax? Or do you include everything right up to the exurbs? No matter what you do, you end up comparing apples and oranges. The traffic dynamic at First and M streets SE in Navy Yard is quite different from the one on University Boulevard in Prince George’s, though they‘re both dangerous in their own ways.
All of which is to say we don’t put too much faith in this list as a sound compilation of dangerous cities. Except when it comes to top-ranked Atlanta. Damn straight on that one. If you’re in Hotlanta sans auto, watch out.