Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan
Physical Activity Obj. 3: Priority Recommendation C

Enhance the safety and perceived safety of communities to improve walkability and bikeability

Concerns about crime and community safety are major barriers to active transportation.(1) Walking is one of the most hazardous methods of travel in the United States.(2) While only five percent of all trips are made on foot, pedestrians make up 12 percent of all traffic deaths. Between 2001 and 2005, 11 percent of all traffic deaths in Washington were pedestrians.(3) The young and old are particularly at risk. In Washington, pedestrian injuries are the third leading cause of death for children ages one to 16.3 While people over 65 represent 12 percent of the population of Washington, they make up 20 percent of the pedestrian deaths.(3)

There are effective ways to enhance pedestrian safety. Nationally, half of all pedestrian fatalities occur on roadways that run through residential neighborhoods. In an effort to move more cars through a given area in less time, residential streets have been widened. Unfortunately, increasingly wider streets encourage increasingly faster vehicular speeds and result in more pedestrian deaths.(2) Narrow streets promote slower traffic. Many pedestrian collisions occur near bus stops or at street crossings without a traffic signal or stop sign. Improved bus stop facilities, pedestrian safety measures and traffic law enforcement will help to make people feel and be safer when they take trips that combine public transportation with walking.(4) In 2006, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels of the City of Seattle announced a “Safe Crossings” campaign, with $2.5 million pledged for pedestrian safety improvements to crosswalks and sidewalks.(5)


Examples of Activities

Enhance pedestrian safety by enforcing vehicle speed limits and regulations regarding safe vehicle passing.

Speeding motor vehicles are the most common concern of walkers on local and arterial streets.(4) Community safety is improved by reducing speed limits and enforcing posted speed limits. The Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 1108 in 2005 to improve bicycle safety. The bill prohibits vehicles from passing when pedestrians or bicycles are in view on the road and approaching from the opposite direction.(6)

Support training of all law enforcement officers about pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Law enforcement can be an influential partner in promoting active and safe communities. Training at the Washington State Police Academy, and subsequent in-service training programs, focus on understanding and enforcing the laws that govern pedestrian and bicycle safety. Officers are trained to investigate accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists. The Washington State Traffic Commission has partnered with the Seattle Police Department to conduct pedestrian safety patrols throughout the City of Seattle.(7) In the City of Lynnwood, a 2006 traffic safety campaign emphasized speed enforcement and pedestrian safety. From 2005 to 2006, collisions involving pedestrians and bicycles dropped by 81 percent in the city.(8)

Implement community policing and block watch programs in communities.

Neighborhood watch groups that increase safety and reduce crime can increase physical activity by helping residents feel more comfortable about walking or playing outside. In Kent, the Volunteer in Police Services (VIPS) group provides support to the police department with the “Speed Watch” program, using radar trailers to monitor traffic speeds in neighborhoods.(9)

Promote safe and active routes to school.

Even when distances to school are one mile or less, fewer children walk or bike and more ride a yellow bus or get a ride from family or friends.(4) Careful review of local conditions and safety considerations is critical before encouraging walking and biking to school. The Kids Walk-to-School Program, promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involves school officials, parents, and children. This program works to improve safe and active routes to school by increasing awareness of the importance of taking advantage of the trip to school as an opportunity to be active. It also alerts communities to unsafe conditions that need to be addressed for all community members who want to use the sidewalks.

The Center for Safe Routes to School in Washington State, a collaboration between Feet First and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, is funded by a grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation.(10) The center helps schools and communities design, implement, and sustain programs to increase safe and active routes to school. At Lincoln Elementary School in Mount Vernon only 10 percent of students were walking to school, but a Walking School Buses program allowed more students to walk to school safely and in 2007 over 30 percent of fourth through sixth graders reported walking to school.

Apply model policies for bicycle and pedestrian-oriented transportation systems.

Transportation systems that accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists help to support active lifestyles. “Complete street” principals of design, construction and operation address safety for all users – motorists as well as pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities (www.completestreets.org). In 2007, the cities of Kirkland and Seattle adopted complete street ordinances into their municipal codes.(11) A “road diet” policy encourages converting four-lane streets to three lanes and incorporating facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users. The cities of Yakima, Gig Harbor, University Place, Bellevue, Seattle, and Kirkland have adopted similar policies.

Use traffic-calming measures, such as speed bumps and bulb-outs.

A pedestrian hit at 35 miles per hour has an 85 percent chance of being killed. The same pedestrian hit at 20 miles per hour would have an 85 percent chance of recovery. Therefore, slowing vehicle speeds is very important to non-motorized safety.(12) The City of Kirkland has a comprehensive neighborhood traffic-calming project that has improved community safety. Speed bumps reduce speeds on neighborhood streets by about five miles per hour.(13) Curb extensions, also referred to as bulb-outs, made pedestrians more visible to motorized traffic and shortened the crossing distance between the curbs so that pedestrians were able to cross the street more quickly.


Commuting by Bike