On Streetsblog, they’re waving New York’s relatively high pedestrian fatality rate as evidence the streets are unsafe and much more can be done. The region’s pedestrian death rate is the 13th worst in the nation, about the same as Houston, which is supposed to be evidence of unsafe streets.
John Adams points out that in Britain, the pedestrian fatality rate today is one third what it was in 1922. The roads are much less safe than they were then, when they were narrow and traffic was slow, but there are so few pedestrians today that cars rarely hit them. As a result, looking at absolute death rates means nothing.
Even the Transportation for America study that Streetsblog links to doesn’t fully correct for it. It scales fatality rates based on the pedestrian commute share, which is better than nothing, but still fails to account the huge volumes of people in New York and other walkable cities who take mass transit to work but still walk a lot for their other trips. The proof is in the pudding: the study says Cleveland is the second safest metro area in the US for pedestrians, behind Boston and ahead of New York.
New York has a lot of street safety issues, but it’s still light years ahead of the rest of the US, except for small pockets in Boston, San Francisco, and other compact, walkable cities. The same is true for Manhattan within New York. Ignore complaints that the community board comprising the Upper East Side has the third highest pedestrian fatality count; it also has the third highest population, trailing two outer-urban CBs with fewer pedestrians. At this stage input-based measures such as traffic speed, sidewalk width, stoplight phasing, and the presence of a good street wall and trees are much better than any skewed output-based statistic.
As a corollary, bike lane opponents who complain about the large number of cyclist injuries on protected bike lanes are just as wrong (see here and scroll for comments). There are more cyclists on 9th Avenue than on pre-bike lane Prospect Park West; of course more will be injured. Counterintuitive claims about how bike lanes are less safe than mixed traffic are fun, but they aren’t true.