Congressional briefing illustrates the rising danger of roadway design for pedestrians

On July 9th, 2024, Smart Growth America and partners engaged the Future of Transportation Caucus and the Office of Senator John Fetterman on the importance of creating a transportation system that is safe for all users. This briefing also provided SGA staff with the platform to present data from our recent report, Dangerous by Design 2024, to congressional offices. 

A panel sits before congressional staffers inside the US Capitol. A presentation on the right shows the words "Dangerous by Design"
Panelists Heidi Simon, Jessica Cicchino, Mayor Matt Tuerk, and Mindy Badin listen to Representative Cohen’s opening statement.

Despite significant safety improvements for motorists, there has been a 75 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities since 2010, with over 7,500 people killed while walking in 2022. This acute safety crisis is due in part to roadway design that prioritizes vehicle speed over the safety of all road users. Research has shown additional changes, including technological and vehicular design changes, could improve pedestrian safety. Ultimately, significant culture change—and unprecedented funding targeted at transportation safety—will be necessary to prioritize the safety of all road users over the speed of a few.

In a briefing supported by the office of Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) and the Future of Transportation Caucus on Capitol Hill, SGA’s Director of Thriving Communities, Heidi Simon, used data from Dangerous by Design 2024 to demonstrate the increased safety risks for people walking in the US. She was joined by panelists Jessica Cicchino, Senior Vice President of Research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; Mayor Matt Tuerk of Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Mindy Badin, an advocate from Families for Safe Streets.

Designing a better future

Four years ago, Mindy Badin’s son, Brett, was dropped off at a bus stop on the side of a busy six-lane highway, a long way from the nearest crosswalk. While attempting to cross the street, Brett was struck by a vehicle and ultimately passed away. Today, the bus stop remains along a dangerous route for pedestrians with no safety improvements. With ever-rising rates of pedestrian fatalities, stories like Brett’s are far too frequent, and they emphasize the need for legislators to address dangerous road design.

An opening statement given at the briefing by Representative Steve Cohen (TN-9)—who represents a portion of Memphis, the most dangerous metro area in the country—highlighted the importance of street safety legislation such as the Complete Streets Act, reintroduced this year by Congressmen Cohen and Auchincloss (MA-4) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). Additional legislation includes the Building Safer Streets Act, introduced by Senator John Fetterman. These bills offer paths forward in the implementation of street design changes that would make our roadways safer for people walking.

The briefing concluded that roadway design changes initiated by local organizations and supported by federal dollars are key to resolving a nationwide safety issue that has unique effects on every community in the country. Federal grant programs, such as the Safe Streets & Roads For All (SS4A) program, provide funding avenues to communities that are already making these changes.

Pedestrian fatality data on congressional districts

At the briefing, Heidi Simon previewed the next release in our series of Dangerous by Design analysis ranking the most deadly congressional districts (to be released next week). We hope that members of Congress take a close look at these numbers and take action to protect the most vulnerable road users in their districts. We also urge advocates to use the data to hold their representatives accountable to the needed safety changes on our streets.

Advocacy Complete Streets Transportation