Study: Walmart, Fast Food Sites Pose High Risk to Pedestrians

Photo:  William Yurasko/Flickr/CC
Photo: William Yurasko/Flickr/CC

Saving a few bucks may cost you your life.

Walmarts, fast food restaurants and discount stores like Family Dollar are hot spots for pedestrian crashes, a new study shows.

Building on existing evidence that low-income neighborhoods are more dangerous for walkers, the new study by the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida [PDF] found that certain kinds of retail stores in low-income areas amplify the danger to pedestrians.

For example, in Florida, Census-designated low-income areas — containing roughly 1,500 residents — with Walmarts had 1.8 more pedestrian crashes over a four-year period on average than low-income areas without.

For each fast food restaurant in a low-income block group, there was an addition 0.69 pedestrian crashes every four years on average. Fast-food joints such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell were also associated with an increased risk of severe injuries.

Finally, within one mile of discount stores like Family Dollar, Kmart or Big Lots there was an average of 0.26 more pedestrian crashes and an increased risk of severe injury.

Pei-Sung Lin, author of the study, of the University of South Florida.
Pei-Sung Lin, author of the study, of the University of South Florida.

Convenience stores and barber shops were also associated with increased risk. But the correlation did not apply to all types of quasi-public gathering spaces.

There was no additional risk associated with schools, churches, bars or hotels, the study found.

Pei-Sung Lin, the author of the study, told Streetsblog that features such as drive-throughs and large parking lots where cars encounter many pedestrians increase the opportunity for conflicts.

“We need to pay special attention in that area to how pedestrians cross the street and we need to make sure we have adequate pedestrian facilities,” he said.

In addition to safe crossings, special attention should be paid to street lighting, said Lin. One of the findings in the study was that the presence of street lights that provided adequate visibility was very important to preventing pedestrian deaths.

  • thielges

    To make matters worse, fast food places generally won’t serve pedestrians when the dining room is closed and only the drive-thru is open. The irony is that they claim pedestrians are excluded because of “safety”.

  • KJ

    Placing business entrances directly off a sidewalk (with any parking in the back) would help.

  • Carter O’Brien

    No surprises here. It would be progress if we could at least get a ban on motorists turning left when they exit these kinds of establishments. I routinely see lanes of traffic blocked by this boneheaded and selfish move, but it doesn’t fit into that narrative of how cyclists are who is screwing up traffic. Motorists are by far their own worst enemy.

  • Dr. Bones

    Pardon my ignorance, but what in tarnation is a “pedestrian crash” exactly? Do the fast-food ‘joints” increase the risk of pedestrians crashing into each other somehow because of the speed at which food is served? Or does this perhaps have something to do with automobiles? It is mighty confusing to an old-fashioned professor like myself, because these infernal “pedestrian crashes” are mentioned three times in the space of eight paragraphs before automobiles are mentioned. Could it be that the torture of the English language has gone a bit far in this one case?

  • Cole the Happy

    A pedestrian crash is one where a pedestrian is hit by an vehicle. In this case it is used to differentiate that from a vehicle crash in which two or more vehicle crash into each other.

  • ohnonononono

    Not sure the correlation is causation as far as these types of businesses being inherently dangerous. While there are no Walmarts in Manhattan, there are tons of fast food chains with no off-street parking or drive thrus or curb cuts where 99% of customers are pedestrians and there’s presumably no reason the design of the site contributes to any danger. These chains will do what they have to do to enter whatever market they want to enter. It’s up to municipalities to reform zoning to permit site plans that aren’t hostile to pedestrians. Even “formula retailers” will change their formulas if they have to. Blaming McDonalds for having a drive-thru is absurd when municipalities require extremely low density, huge setbacks, and tons of off-street parking for these businesses.

    Even within Florida for example, there is a McDonalds on Miami’s South Beach that has no off-street parking and has a “walk-up window” instead of a drive-thru. McDonalds wanted a location in the heart of South Beach and of course they conformed with the urban design standards of the location. It’s not a McDonalds thing to have a drive-thru, it’s an aspect of low density commercial retail that prescribed in zoning laws in much of the country.

  • ohnonononono

    Right, but the urban version of a drive-thru is a “walk-up window,” which many McDonalds use in urban areas.

    The “safety” excuse for not serving pedestrians in drive-thrus is a polite way of papering over the fact that insurance carriers consider pedestrians in drive-thrus to be liabilities because they don’t have license plates to register on video in the case of crime. Dining rooms closing at night is often partly because of crime concern during late night hours. As a more practical matter, typical fast food drive-thrus use a weight sensor to beep when a car is there, which won’t be tripped by a ped. Lots of reasons to just stick with cars, especially in typical low density American suburbia.

  • what_eva

    While you’re absolutely correct that McDonalds will conform to dense urban areas when forced too, I feel like your last sentence holds McDonald’s blameless, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Even in dense areas where low density commercial retail is not prescribed by zoning laws, McDonald’s will put in a drive-thru if it’s allowed. eg, yeah, there’s a bunch in the Chicago Loop with no drive-thru, but there’s also some not far outside of it in very dense areas with one (eg Chicago/State)

  • Dr. Bones

    Let’s see
    Vehicle crash—two vehicles crash into each other
    Airplane crash: airplane crashes into the ground
    Cymbal crash: two cymbals crash into each other

    Pedestrian crash? Hmmm.

    The word itself is an an onomatopoeic one, and sounds nonsensical and even humorous in this context to anyone who is not familiar with the fairly recent activist logic behind calling all accidents “crashes” in an attempt to denote responsibility exclusively to automobile drivers.

    I get that, even though I will never get used to it, as it offends the logic of language in too strange a way.

    But in this case, the logic has been tortured so far out of kilter that the article reads like nonsense to the uninitiated.

  • thielges

    Those issues are easily surmountable. Install a pushbutton for pedestrians to hail the the staff as an alternative to the car sensor. If crime is an issue then fortify the drive-up window. As you mention fast food chains already have stores with walk up windows: same issue, yet somehow they solved it. The issue is that fast food places don’t care enough to take even simple measures to accommodate customers without cars.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The issue is both the curb cut, and the kind of customers that the fast food restaurant drive thrus cater to. Lots of businesses have parking lots and thus curb cuts, but there’s a different dynamic in place when your customers never have to get out of their car. With the latter, pedestrians are interfering with the behavioral psychology that makes the drive thru so appealing, that convenience factor.

    The McDonald’s in my Chicago neighborhood lobbied and fought like bloody hell to keep a grandfathered drive thru when they did a massive renovation a few years ago. They literally said we wold all be stuck with this old, shitty building and parking lot from the 80s unless we improved their access to/from the street and alley (this is in Logan Square by the subway stop, btw), and the alderman caved.

    Going back further, Chicago was home to some of the first few McDonald’s that failed, and what they had in common was a lack of a drive thru (one in East Lakeview on Broadway and another in central Lake View). I don’t think the home office ever forgot that lesson.

    There are clearly a lot of people who given a choice between fast food joint #1 and #2 will opt for the one that doesn’t make them get out of their cars. People that won’t get out of their cars do not tend to play nicely with pedestrians.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Have you seen actual proof that this is the case, re: the insurance companies? I have some experience dealing with McDonald’s, and they told some whoppers in this general category, one being that it was unsafe and a sanitation code problem to allow customers to use their own cups/mugs/thermoses for coffee. Never mind that every coffee chain not only allows this, but generally offers a small financial incentive to do so.

  • Vooch

    Its nicer than saying “killed by another homicidal driver”

  • Cole the Happy

    Referring to crashes as crashes is part of the effort to reframe them as preventable, especially via street and vehicle design, since we generally object to designing people. “Crash” puts no more responsibility on the driver than “accident” does, but “crash” doesn’t prematurely absolve drivers (or engineers & planners) of their responsibility either. It’s a statement of fact: sometimes a crash is an accident, sometimes it isn’t, but either way it’s still a crash. This is a classic instance of syllogism, so your statement that this “offends the logic of language” is farcical.

  • I’ve witnessed this.

  • Juliette Beaulieu

    “Crashes involving pedestrians” seems like a good option here. “Pedestrian crashes” does sound like a mosh pit situation. 🙂

  • It’s a stigmatization of blaming the victim…

  • Dr. Bones

    the logic of language is not formal logic
    it’s based on what feels right to say ..most users of the language are not schooled in formal logic and whether something is a syllogism or not

    so while i appreciate the sentiment and intentions behind it i think it’s very hard to change language based on arguments like that

    so I’ll just say keep trying but maybe don’t try so hard that sentences don’t make basic sense or can be read to mean something entirely else

    someone else suggested saying “crashes involving pedestrians” which is where i’d probably take it too

  • Steven Goodridge

    Walmarts and fast-food stores are attracted to locating in high-vehicle-traffic corridors with permissive zoning and building regulations. These locations correlate with high posted speed limits and poor pedestrian acommodations (typically state DOT thoroughfares) and low-wealth residential populations (not politically powerful enough to block such land uses). When low-wealth pedestrians walk through the pedestrian-hostile built environment (due to poor local and state planning and design standards) to the shopping, food and jobs such businesses provide, the result is inevitable. Although big businesses sometimes seek to avoid stringent site regulations including pedestrian requirements, it’s the flawed regulatory framework of state and local governments that is mostly to blame for creating a pedestrian-hostile commercial streetscape environment with land uses that attract both pedestrians and drivers.

  • Stephen Simac

    what bothers me is the casual aggression of some drivers in areas with high pedestrian use, speeding in parking lots, pulling to abrupt stops close to people. (FUV drivers seem to be the worst offenders, but that could be observer bias).

  • Vooch

    drivers are homicidal maniacs

    even if we refuse to aknowledge this simple truth

  • Stephen Simac

    They do control a deadly weapon without much supervision, but I know there are ‘good guys with cars”, maybe not FUV’s. Just don’t expect them to sacrifice themselves to protect the pedestrians.

  • Vooch

    that’s exactly what makes every driver a homicidal maniac – they’d rather kill than get a scratch on their precious hulking death machine

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