A Resident's Guide for Creating Safe and Walkable Communities

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Chapter 4: I need more information!

Frequently asked questions

There are a number of questions that frequently arise when discussing pedestrian transportation and safety issues. This section is intended to help you become more knowledgeable about these issues.

What are the functions of streets?

People have a right to safe streets that are able to serve multiple purposes, including:

  • Connecting places within cities and providing access to destinations.
  • Providing the surface and structure to support a variety of travel modes, including walking, bicycling, transit, driving, emergency services, etc.
  • Providing space for utilities and other underground infrastructure.
  • Creating a sense of place and opportunities for community interaction by being a venue for parties, fairs, parades, and community celebrations, or by simply being a place where neighbors stop to chat.

How does driver speed relate to pedestrian-motorist collisions?

Nationally, there are around 5,000 pedestrian fatalities and about 64,000 injuries every year. These fatalities occur in urban, suburban, and rural areas and affect people of all age, race/ethnicity, and physical ability. There are a number of contributing factors to each pedestrian collision, but one of the most important issues related to pedestrian injuries and deaths is driver speed. The faster a driver is traveling, the more difficult it is to stop, and the greater the chance of a pedestrian's death if he or she is hit by the vehicle (see images below).

Bar Graph of Minimum Stopping Distance vs. Speed. Graph illustrates as speeds increase, thinking distances increase at a steady rate while stopping distances increase dramatically from 20ft thinking and 20ft stopping at 20 MPH to 70ft thinking and 245ft stopping at 70 MPH.

Source: Traffic Safety Facts: Pedestrians, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Washington, D.C., 2006.

Bar Graph of Shortest Stopping Distances. Graph illustrates that a pedestrians' chance of death if hit by a motor vehicle dramatically increases from 15% at 20 MPH to 85% at 40 MPH.

Source: Killing Speed and Saving Lives, United Kingdom Department of Transportation, London, 1987.

Meeting the needs of more vulnerable people, such as children and pedestrians with disabilities, can make the walking environment safer for everyone.

Do different people have different safety needs?

Yes, pedestrians have various levels of physical and mental abilities that affect their ability to walk safely in certain conditions. For example:

  • Children may have more difficulty seeing (and being seen by) drivers of all types of vehicles, and often have trouble deciding when and where it is safe to cross the street. They also have trouble with peripheral vision and gauging speed.
  • Older pedestrians may have reduced motor skills that limit their ability to walk at certain speeds or turn their heads, so they may need more time to cross a street. They also may have trouble getting oriented and understanding traffic signs, so they may need more information on how to get around safely.
  • Recent immigrants (often with little understanding of English, traffic laws, or roadway culture) may not understand the traffic and pedestrian signals that indicate when to walk or have the experience as to how to safely interact with drivers.
  • People with disabilities (e.g., people using wheelchairs, crutches, canes, or those with visual or mental impairments) may be more affected by surface irregularities in the pavement, changes in slope or elevation/grade, and width restrictions.
Residents can influence roadway decisions by working with local agencies to review plans, identify concerns, and educate others on pedestrian needs.

How can I influence decisions to make the roadways in my community safer for pedestrians?

You can influence your transportation providers and decision-makers by advocating for change. Advocating for change is no small task for one person to do alone; you will be more successful if you work with others and have a strong network of support. Advocates promote bicycling and walking in a wide variety of ways, including:

  • Influencing policy—Speaking and working with local elected officials and transportation agencies can help you to inform others of policy needs and work to change or develop new policies.
  • Reviewing plans—This takes some expertise. If no one in your organization is qualified, seek the help of a professional engineer, transportation planner, or local pedestrian advisory board (PAB) member.
  • Holding events—Events (such as community walks or bike rides, neighborhood walk audits, health days or fairs) bring attention to bicycling and walking. In many cases, the event also raises funds that can be used for advocacy efforts or education campaigns. You can partner with national organizations or create your own event.
  • Educating others—You can use campaigns and work with the media to convey pedestrian-related messages and information. This can be done to target a specific group or people (such as local elected leaders) or a broad audience (such as all drivers and pedestrians in a community). See the section on Education and Public Awareness in Chapter 3 for more details.
  • Identifying problems and weaknesses—Document issues in the pedestrian transportation environment and the development process. See the section on Identifying Problems in Chapter 2 for more information.

Who is my state highway traffic safety representative and what do they do?

The Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is an association of state-level highway traffic safety representatives that work to change the behavior of drivers and other road users (including pedestrians and bicyclists) to reduce motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries. You can find your state highway safety office online at http://www.naghsr.org/html/links/highwaysafetywebsites.html or call the GHSA at 202-789-0942.

Who is my state bicycle and pedestrian coordinator and what do they do?

Your state bicycle and pedestrian coordinator is a good person to contact for local information about pedestrian safety statistics and ongoing state and local pedestrian programs (or links to others with this information). Your representative should be able to answer questions related to pedestrian issues and direct you to appropriate contacts in your state or community. Find your state pedestrian and bicycle coordinator by visiting the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Web site (http://cms.transportation.org/?siteid=59&pageid=852) or by calling the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center assistance line at 877-925-5245. Some cities and counties also have a local pedestrian and bicycle coordinator. Find out by contacting your local department of transportation (DOT) or public works.

For More Information:

For other frequently asked questions, visit the Iowa State University Center for Transportation Research and Education Web site at http://www.ctre.iastate.edu/pubs/tsinfo/index.htm (or call 515-294-8103). The Center has a Traffic and Safety Informational Series that provides clear, concise, and consistent answers to 25 common traffic and safety questions.


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Program Contact

Tamara Redmon


Gabriel Rousseau


What's New

The FHWA Safety Office is continually developing new materials to assist states, localities and citizens in improving pedestrian and bicycle safety. The materials listed on this page were completed recently.

New Pedestrian Forum – Fall 2014

New Understanding Pedestrian Crashes in Louisville, KY 2006-2010

New Bicycle Safer Journey (Revised 2014)

New Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon Guide

new A Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety

new Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety Research Report

REVISED Pedsafe 2013: Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System

New Pedestrian Safer Journey 2013 (Revised)  

Proven Countermeasures for Pedestrian Safety

Spotlight on Pedestrian Safety

Promoting the Implementation of Proven Pedestrian Countermeasures

State Best Practice Policy for Medians

State Best Practice Policy for Shoulders and Walkways

Pedestrian Countermeasure Policy Best Practice Report

The State of Florida is developing a statewide Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. They have set up a project website that includes information about the project, workshop presentations and resources relating to pedestrian safety.

Evaluating Pedestrian Safety Countermeasures

Safety Benefits of Raised Medians and Pedestrian Refuge Areas: Brochure, Booklet

Safety Benefits of Walkways, Sidewalks, and Paved Shoulders: Brochure, Booklet

Pedestrian Safety Strategic Plan