Study: People in Low-Income Areas More Likely to Be Killed While Walking

Who is most at risk of being hit by a car?

Image: Governing
Pedestrian fatality rates are highest in low-income neighborhoods. Image: Governing

People on foot make up a growing proportion of people killed in traffic — 15 percent in 2012, up from 11 percent in 2007. Children, seniors, and people of color account for a disproportionate share of the victims.

So do people living in low-income areas, according to a new analysis by Governing. A review of pedestrian deaths from 2008 to 2012 revealed that the fatality rate is twice as high in America’s poorest neighborhoods as in higher-income neighborhoods.

Governing’s Mike Maciag writes that efforts to improve walkability have often been centered in downtown areas and commercial districts while poor people, priced out of those neighborhoods, are moving into less walkable suburbs:

Bridging the Gap, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, conducted field research assessing a sample of street segments in 154 communities in 2010. In high-income areas, 89 percent of streets had sidewalks, while only 49 percent did in low-income areas. Marked crosswalks were found in 13 percent of high-income areas, compared to just 7 percent of streets in low-income communities. The study found similar disparities for street lighting and traffic calming devices.

To some degree, people living in poor neighborhoods may be more at risk of being hit while walking because they walk more than people who can afford cars. But low-income neighborhoods are also more burdened by the legacy of car-centric street design than affluent neighborhoods. “Historically, many could not fend off construction of highways and major arterial roadways the way wealthier communities did,” Maciag writes.

Low-income neighborhoods that struggle with high crime rates may have the added problem of what former DC and Chicago DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein has called “a broken windows effect,” whereby reckless driving and violent crime exacerbate each other. In places where violent crime rates are higher, the thinking goes, motorists are also less likely to observe the law, putting pedestrians at risk.

Add to that the evidence that drivers are less likely to slow down or stop for people of color and you have a recipe for gross inequity on our streets.

  • voltairesmistress

    Years ago I lived as an exchange student with a conservative German family. The father explained to me why poorer sections of the town (18,000 people) lacked streetlights and had sand-packed alleys or cobblestones, while the wealthier ones had lights, asphault, and sidewalks: the wealthier deserved more services and infrastructure because they paid more taxes: this was “fair.” I think this explains pretty well why there’s a direct relationship between the quality of walking environments and pedestrian fatalities: politicians deliver goods to the socially powerful, because they fear retribution, need their votes, and hear their voices. In addition, the wealthier one is, the more time someone in the family has to contact political officials or advocate for services. The poorer one is, the less time one has to devote to non-economic welfare issues, and the less likely one’s voice will be listened to when one does ask for improvements to the neighborhood. This study showing an almost one to one relationship between pedestrian fatalities and a neighborhood’s concentration of impoverished residents seems to prove this.

  • 2UrbanGirls

    If there were a more equitable distribution of resources throughout the entire city, complete streets, etc. minorities aka low-income constituents wouldn’t be at such a great risk.

  • davistrain

    So it’s not just the US–even in “social-democratic” European countries, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

  • tony365

    LA is giant grey Traffic car centric shit-hole thats insanely expensive, and has lots of terrible ”fast and furious” jerks who think that movie is real. even in “”moneyed hoods” I see asshole’s in sports cars driving 50mph + on residential streets. This is a f-ing joke of a city.

  • anon_coward

    NYC the drivers get a lot more bloodthirsty in the lower income areas, at least outside of manhattan. i don’t know why, but it’s like they are trying to prove how important they are and everything belongs to them

  • kenney.sleater

    well thank god hipsters are moving into these poorer areas and gentrifying them…soon they will get their fair share of transportation resources….now poor people will only hafta worry about mental health issues, substance abuse problems, dysfunctional single parent families..etc.

  • Boots

    I think it’s more related to the fact that avenues in lower income areas are wider, straighter, have fewer stop signs, higher speed limits, less traffic and fewer visual elements that cause drivers to slow down. “Trying to prove how important they are and everything belongs to them”, that’s the same attitude of the drivers of Escalades with New Jersey plates, if you ask me, and they ain’t poor, just stupid.

  • Momo

    Well I did have an experience driving in NY, I think it was either Queens or Brooklyn or near the cityline, where a black guy with his window down was coming up alongside me on a residential street turn and actually spoke to me from his car saying something like yeah, he was gonna go first. Or some such garbage. Me, I’m a very polite driver and I don’t mind letting people in front of me anyway (there’s always someone in front of you no matter where you are, anyway). I’m not competing with anyone, but he seemed to feel it was some kind of personal affront if I didn’t let him in front of me. It was pushy and entitled, but like I said, I usually don’t take that stuff personally because the person exhibiting that behavior usually is a sad individual, anyway.

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