Since the release of Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design 2014 report earlier this month, people have been wondering what characteristics the regions with the most dangerous roads have in common. It’s no surprise that the metro areas that topped the Pedestrian Danger Index are primarily automobile-oriented, “Sunbelt communities that grew in the post-war period,” or that the safest metros tend to be centered around denser cities where driving isn’t the only way of getting around.
But that’s not all these places have in common. Metro areas where streets are “dangerous by design” aren’t just a threat to pedestrian safety. They may also be a threat to our health.
The 2014 American Fitness Index, released today by the American College of Sports Medicine, ranks the nation’s 50 largest metro areas based not only on levels of chronic disease and access to health care, but also on “community resources and policies that support physical activity.” For example, ACSM takes into account levels of walking, biking and transit use, and for the first time this year, they also took WalkScore into account in their rankings.
There’s a positive correlation between the two indices*. Many of the metro areas that were ranked among the least safe for pedestrians were also some of the least fit. Thirteen of 20 most dangerous metros on the Pedestrian Danger Index landed in the bottom 20 in the American Fitness Index.
On the flip side, metro areas that were least dangerous for pedestrians were also some of the fittest. Boston, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle were ranked not only among the 10 least dangerous for walking, but also in the top 10 most fit.
The problem with prioritizing vehicular travel over all other modes is two-fold. High-speed arterial roadways aren’t just dangerous for people who dare to walk on them; they’re also dangerous because they discourage physical activity. In other words, you’re damned if you walk, and you’re damned if you don’t walk.
*The Rochester NY metro area was not included in this analysis as it is not included in the American Fitness Index.