Stuck in Groundhog Day with Dangerous by Design

Have a street that could be safer? Submit photos of your dangerous streets to be included in the 2021 Dangerous by Design report.

As the Smart Growth America and Complete Streets team prepares for the upcoming release of Dangerous By Design 2021, our landmark report on pedestrian safety, we feel like we’re just waking up in a closed time loop, like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day film. Cue Sonny and Cher: Pedestrian fatalities will have (yet again) reached levels not seen since 1990.

Are we back here again?

Didn’t we just do this two years ago?

For the last decade-plus we’ve been producing this same report and watching the slow, steady, terrifying increase in the number of people struck and killed while walking each year in this country—even as overall traffic fatalities have been trending downward. After all that time trying desperately to get those who can change things to pay attention, we feel like we’ve been living in a version of Groundhog Day.

But rather than a charming, timeless movie filled with quippy one-liners, Bill Murray’s droll perfection, and a happy ending, we’re stuck in a loop where real people are dying.

We tell the world the numbers, watch the media coverage roll in, and lay out strategies to address the epidemic and halt the increase. And then, two years later a new report is released and we’re back reporting on the same exact thing. 

Honestly? We’re tired of producing this report and just saying the same thing year after year while more people keep dying, and many states even make plans for that trend to continue. It’s the same despairing story, and those who have the most power to change things seem to be so painfully indifferent. 

(Oh, did not our country’s tried-and-true strategy of not really changing anything at all fail to fix the problem this year?)

We’ve tried illustrating what unsafe roads look like with powerful photos. We’ve helped elevate unbelievable stories of injustice— even victims charged with crimes. We’ve tried to shame the states that set targets for more people to die in the coming year. In the last decade we’ve put this issue on the über-mainstream Today Show and gotten Dangerous by Design in almost every daily newspaper in the country. We’ve gotten at least two Secretaries of Transportation to talk about the crisis publicly, with a third (Mayor Pete Buttigieg) mentioning it clearly in his recent confirmation hearing.

Would anyone notice if we just took the last report from 2019, dropped in the new numbers, and never changed a word? Do we really need to find a new way to write the same thing? Or better yet, maybe we should just bring in someone honest to annotate the 2019 report and just release that later this month:

During [A NEW TEN YEAR PERIOD], drivers struck and killed [A NUMBER SO HIGH THAT IT’S CLEAR WE ARE TOTALLY INURED TO DEATH] people who were walking on streets all across the United States. It’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people crashing—with no survivors—every single month.

Dangerous by Design 2021 takes [SIGH…YET ONCE AGAIN] a closer look at this alarming epidemic.

We can and must do more to reduce the number of people who die while walking every day on our roadways. [BUT POLICY MAKERS HAVE DONE ALMOST NOTHING SINCE OUR LAST REPORT, SHOWING AN INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF INDIFFERENCE].

For too long we have disregarded this problem by prioritizing moving cars at high speeds over safety for everyone [AND WE STILL DO, WHILE RUNNING OUR SAME OLD “PEDESTRIAN SAFETY” CAMPAIGNS].

It’s [STILL] past time for that to change [AGAIN]. [I CAN’T BELIEVE WE HAVE TO ACTUALLY SAY THIS BUT] Protecting the safety of all people who use the street—especially the people most vulnerable to being struck and killed—needs to be a higher priority for policymakers, and this priority must be reflected in the decisions we make about how to fund, design, operate, maintain, and measure the success of our roads.


Is there some level of carnage we could reach where local, state, and national transportation policymakers and leaders would finally wake up to the crisis at hand? What would it take? Is it 7,000 fatalities a year? 8,000? What’s the magic number?

What would it take for them to finally choose to stand athwart history and yell “STOP?” And then join us and others in saying:

  • Stop prioritizing speed over the safety of all people
  • Stop choosing to move cars fast at all costs
  • Stop thinking we can educate people out of an engineering problem
  • Stop ignoring the impact of ever-enlarging trucks and SUVs on the likelihood of being killed by one
  • Stop blaming the victims who are struck and killed
  • Stop treating every street or road like it serves the same purpose
  • Stop thinking that cars moving fast = a prosperous economy
  • Stop thinking that enforcement isn’t tainted by issues of systemic racism
  • Stop making it impossible to cross the street
  • Stop valuing some lives more than others
  • Stop repairing dangerous roads in well-to-do neighborhoods or prosperous downtowns while leaving the most dangerous ones unchanged in Black neighborhoods

We need to wake up from this Groundhog Day.

You can start by joining us and hundreds of other organizations in urging President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg to commit to a goal of zero deaths by 2050. Sign the letter here.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for news about Dangerous by Design 2021, still coming soon.


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