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FHWA Home / Safety / Pedestrian & Bicycle / A Resident's Guide for Creating Safer a Communities for Walking and Biking

A Resident's Guide for Creating Safer Communities for Walking and Biking

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Section One: What's the problem here?

You may feel afraid to cross a street to walk to a nearby store, be nervous for your children to ride their bikes in your neighborhood, or face obstacles when traveling using a wheelchair or stroller. If you have concerns but are unsure what the problems are, the information in this section can help you identify and describe them.

To be able to travel safely in their community, pedestrians and bicyclists need:

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

Also, different people have different traveling needs. Pedestrians and bicyclists have various levels of physical and cognitive abilities that affect their ability to walk or bike safely in certain conditions. For example:

Some communities lack sidewalks, curb ramps, and other
Some communities lack sidewalks, curb ramps, and
other facilities, making it difficult for people to travel
safely and easily on foot or by bike.

Types of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Problems

Understanding and properly identifying issues that can cause pedestrian safety problems is an important part of finding a solution. If the problem is not accurately identified, the wrong solution may be applied and the problem could continue. Some typical problems that affect pedestrian and bicyclist safety include:

Poor walking or bicycling accommodations

Poor conditions at bus stops (including school bus stops)

Many bus stops are located in places that are difficult to reach by foot or bike, or are not safe and accessible for people of all abilities. Some concerns that might be found at bus stops include:

Lack of sidewalks and curb ramps can prohibit access
Lack of sidewalks and curb ramps can prohibit access
to a transit stop for some users and make access more
difficult for all users.

The location of a bus stop (e.g., if it comes before or after an intersection or is in the middle of the block) plays an important part in how safe and convenient the stop will be for bus riders to access.

Transit agencies and school districts often choose bus stop locations based on where it is safe for the bus to stop, but they may not consider where pedestrians can walk safely and easily. To further complicate matters, road agencies – not transit agencies or school districts – usually have the responsibility of providing pedestrian or bicycle accommodations near and at bus stops.

For More Information:
Refer to the Pedestrian Safety Guide for Transit Agencies (http://bit.ly/1xK3vNR) for details about how to address concerns related to transit stops.

Unsafe driver behaviors or traffic characteristics

Driveways can become points of conflict for pedestrians
Driveways can become points of conflict for pedestrians and vehicles

Unsafe pedestrian or bicyclist behaviors

Poor conditions at schools

The issues listed above apply to schools as well; just be sure that you also consider the limitations of children walking and biking near and at the school (e.g., height and ability to see cars, mental development, and skills in judging traffic and making decisions). Additionally, you may want to consider the school pick-up and drop-off zones – these are places with a lot of potential conflict between children walking or biking and buses and cars.

For More Information:
To learn more about pedestrian and bicycle safety around schools, visit http://bit.ly/1yz9jGQ

Institutional barriers

Sometimes, poor pedestrian and bicyclist accommodations or a "traffic culture" that is not conducive for walking and bicycling is a reflection of broader past or current institutional barriers or lack of support for improving walking and biking conditions in a community. In these places, it may be common to hear community members say things like:

As someone looking to improve conditions for walking and bicycling, it may seem like an uphill battle with such barriers in place. But, there are lots of ways that communities can work together to break down these barriers, refocus priorities, and work collaboratively to address the concerns that they identify. A key first step is to focus on understanding, documenting, and communicating the problems that exist and why they are important to resolve.

Ways to Assess Problems

You might begin by taking photos or videos, or simply writing down the problems you observe. This can be useful when trying to describe your concerns to decision-makers, local government staff, community members, and other interested people. Below are some other ways that you can assess and document pedestrian and bicycle safety problems in your community:

Perform a walkabout

Countless individuals and community groups across the U.S. have used "walkabouts" to assess the safety of their neighborhoods for pedestrians and bicyclists. Walkabouts can serve as a way to directly observe and document or inventory conditions, and also as a way to effectively engage and collaborate with residents, public works and planning staff, advocates, and elected officials to collectively identify problems and develop a plan to address them.

Download a walkability checklist at http://bit.ly/1BaosUu
Download a walkability
checklist at http://bit.ly/1BaosUu

There are a number of tools available – such as walkability, bikeability, or bus stop safety checklists – that can be used to help guide your walkabout. And, walkabouts can be a great opportunity to capture concerns using photos and videos. For example, the Coalition for Livable Communities, in conjunction with the Memphis Center of Independent Living and Memphis Regional Design Center, conducted a video-based walkabout to illustrate where those with disabilities and/or in wheelchairs would have issues on local sidewalks. The videos were then posted on a YouTube channel called "Barrier Free Memphis" (http://www.youtube.com/user/BarrierFreeMemphis) for broader distribution. To learn about more of Memphis's efforts, visit the Community Success Stories section.


Tips for Planning a Walkabout to Identify Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Concerns provides concrete steps you can take to help prepare for, participate in, and use the findings from a walkabout to improve conditions for walking and bicycling in your community. It also provides links to some useful assessment tools and checklists.

Examine pedestrian/bicycle collision and injury data

If you have time or access to someone with technical expertise, you can try to gather more information on pedestrian and bicycle crashes that have occurred in your community. These data are sometimes available through your State or local department of transportation (DOT) and can be a way to determine if an area has a history of pedestrian or bicycle safety problems. For example, the North Carolina DOT provides crash data through a web portal, in which anyone can download several years of data from their city or municipality and look at crash trends (http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/pbcat_nc/). Often, you can request such information from a local police department (who fill out crash reports on the scene of any reported incident) or the county health department (who may collect statistics on traffic-related injuries reported by local hospital emergency departments). You can also request that the local transportation agency review collision data.

Diagram: Symbols: 1 Pedestrian, 2 Transit, 3 Bicycle, 4 Auto
Chicago's Complete Streets Chicago Design Guidelines
and policy puts pedestrians first in the goal to balance
streets for all users. For more information,
see http://chicagocompletestreets.org.

Talk with other community members

This may be one of the best ways to help identify safety problems in your community and at the same time build a network of involved citizens who are willing to help you address your concerns. You can speak with neighborhood residents and community groups, your local pedestrian or bicycle advisory board, local public health and injury prevention leaders, emergency services professionals, and law enforcement officers. Section 2 gives more detail on ways to communicate and partner with other community members.


Tips and Examples for Working with Social Media has ideas for how to use social media and other web-based tools to communicate with other community members and to pinpoint or map concerns.

Find out what policies and plans are already in place

Your town/city or county may already have a pedestrian or bicycle plan or other transportation plan to address problems in your neighborhood. Or, they may have adopted a Complete Streets policy or design guidelines or a school board resolution to support Safe Routes to School programs. If not, they need to hear from you! Talk to your local planning, transportation, or public works department or pedestrian or bicycle advocacy group to see if there is a list of upcoming transportation projects where you can provide input or find out if other residents have documented similar concerns.

Linking Problems to Solutions

Once you've identified and documented the problems in your community affecting pedestrians and bicyclists, you can start to discuss potential solutions and next steps to take to address your concerns. The next few sections will help you identify who to contact and will give you ideas for potential safety improvements.

Remember that the best solutions usually use a combination of approaches – engineering, education, enforcement, and other ways – to be effective and long-lasting.

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Page last modified on January 31, 2013
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