‘Walkable’ cities filled with preoccupied pedestrians, poll suggests

Pedestrians preoccupied with texting are making walkable cities less safe, a new poll suggests.

With vacation season here, city sidewalks are teeming with foot traffic as locals and tourists take advantage of the summery conditions. While cities have invested millions into making their street corners more walkable, many Americans believe they’re a giant leap away from being 100% safe.

Some of the country’s most walkable cities, deemed as such by a number of different third-party reports, have the highest levels of distracted walkers, according to respondents in a new survey conducted by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Distracted walking is a fairly recent phenomenon, borne out of the smartphone craze that’s captured the country. Though interruption can generate from a variety of sources, the term generally refers to people who are talking on the phone or texting and not paying attention to where they’re going.

When participants in the PCI survey were asked to reference which cities they’d most likely find preoccupied pedestrians, 75% pointed to New York City, 41% cited the District of Columbia, and nearly 31% mentioned Chicago. Several of these metros have been given high marks for walkability, according to Walk Score.

Robert Passmore, an Assistant Vice President of Personal Lines at PCI, said pedestrians who aren’t looking where they’re going take unnecessary risks, whether they know it or not.

“Distracted walking could be as dangerous as distracted driving,” Passmore explained. “Urban areas are now faced with the growing threat of pedestrians glued to smartphones, putting themselves as well as motorists in greater danger.”‘

4 in 10 pedestrian incidents happen in large metros

As a result, serious medical injuries have risen, many of them fatal. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 2,368 people were killed between January and the end of June last year after being struck by vehicles, up from 2,232 in 2014 over the same six-month period. Over 40% of these accidents took place in states known for their urban locates, including New York, California, Texas, and Florida.

“Multitasking while walking through downtown might seem like a time saver, but you’re putting yourself in danger,” Passmore continued. “Pedestrians on smartphones take longer to cross the street, and even if they check for cars before crossing, all too often they turn their attention back to their phones while still in the middle of the intersection.”

Safety officials acknowledge that pedestrians are ultimately responsible for their safety and need to turn off their phones when they’re out and about. But state regulators have a role they can play as well.

GHSA report details what cities can do

Pam Fischer, a transportation safety expert who’s been in the industry for over 30 years, believes community legislators should take a second look at what their speed limits are and adjust them accordingly. Last year, the GHSA released a report, detailing nearly two dozen suggestions for how to keep pedestrians better protected. Informing the public about the Move Over Law through awareness campaigns, building pedestrian and cycling pathways and developing a pedestrian safety action plan were among the recommendations.

GHSA Executive Director and the study’s co-developer Jonathan Adkins noted that each community’s approach has to be multipronged.

“Taking a comprehensive approach that includes education, engineering, and enforcement is the best way to maximize limited resources and get results,” Adkins explained.

Speaking of enforcement, an increasing number of legislatures are considering passing laws that would fine individuals who are texting and walking simultaneously. Though no laws are on the books banning this kind of activity, bills have been proposed in Arkansas, New York, Illinois and Nevada, among others, according to The Washington Post. The proposals in each instance didn’t garner enough votes to pass.

Moral of the story: Don’t just drive safe this summer – walk safe!