Luckless Pedestrian

According to StreetsBlog, after dropping for many years, pedestrian deaths in traffic have been rising since their low in 2009 (link from Marginal Revolution).

They go on to point out that when pedestrians get hit by SUVs, the accident is more likely to be fatal, because SUVs hit you in the chest rather than lower down. Rate of collisions with SUVs has also gone up, though since more people are buying SUVs, I'm not sure whether the actual rate is going up, or even if the number of overall pedestrian/SUV accidents is going up.

The suburban nickname for us city dwellers, courtesy of Steely Dan

The suburban nickname for us city dwellers, courtesy of Steely Dan

And that is true of a lot of other data. No one knows how many people are walking, or, for that matter, bicycling, how far, and under what conditions. Rates of fatal pedestrian acciddents seem to have climbed for crossing in the middle of the street, on arterials, etc., relative to other locations and road types. I have no idea what any of that might mean, or what actions anyone might conceivably take.

Traffic is political, so the comments below the article find ways to work immigrants, pompous SUV owners, and elites seeking to take away your internal combustion engines into their response. When your only tool is outrage, everything you see is something outrageous.

The relative absence of data

We feel like we live in this totalizing information space, where everything about us is known, but that is really true only of cyberspace. In the real world, no one has a good handle on rates, distances, frequencies, or any of the other parameters of these encounters. Fatalities get reported, injuries less so.

Maybe it's due to distracted driving, bicycling, and walking (I actually have seen people bicycling in Boston traffic while looking at their phones), but who knows?

Traffic is political

Did I mention that? It's interesting what else people can draw from these figures. This 2017 NPR article on pedestrian deaths, for example, mentions that

  • People of color are over-represented among those pedestrians killed. Non-white people are 34.9 percent of the U.S. population, but make up 46.1 percent of pedestrian deaths.

  • In certain places, this disparity is especially stark. In North Dakota, Native Americans are five percent of the population, but account for nearly 38 percent of pedestrian deaths.

But the thing I note from the Pedestrian and Bicycling Information Center is that 70 percent of pedestrians and 88 percent of bicyclists killed in 2014 were males. Not too surprising, though what did surprise me is that the average age of those killed has been climbing. The average bicyclist killed in an accident in 1988 was 24, and in 2014 that average age had climbed to 45.

Anyway, when analyzing which groups suffer more from these accidents, you have to take into account how many of them are male, their average age, and how many miles they travel by that means of transportation. Since different social groups differ in their composition and choice (or lack of choice) of transportation, that has to be taken into account.

Are you a luckless pedestrian or bicyclist?

Steely Dan didn't manage to work bicyclists into "Don't Take Me Alive", but no reason why I can't.