C-U finishes second in safety study

By Nate Sandstrom

The Champaign-Urbana area ranked second in pedestrian safety among metro areas in Illinois, according to a new study released by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP). However, the area also saw the second-biggest increase in the state since 1995 of its Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), a figure that compares the number of people walking to work with pedestrian death rates.

Even though Champaign-Urbana had a large increase in PDI, its original PDI was low, said Kevin McCarty, the project’s senior director for policy.

The area’s rating moved from a 7.8 to a 15.8. The Bloomington-Normal area had the state’s lowest PDI at 12.3. The St. Louis metro area had the highest in the state at 95.0. The national average was 57.5, McCarty said.

STPP, a non-profit organization that focuses on safety issues, has researched pedestrian fatalities in the United States for 10 years. The organization’s report used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the number of walkers; The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provided the pedestrian death rates.

Students who walk to school could count among those walking to work, said Mike Bergman, a spokesman for the U.S. Census Bureau.

University towns like Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal are more likely to have better pedestrian safety measures because more people walk, bike and use public transportation to travel, McCarty said.

While Champaign is an area that ranks well in pedestrian safety, there is some cause for concern.

McCarty said the area’s pedestrian fatality numbers increased from three in 1994-1995 to five in 2002-2003, while the number of people walking to work decreased by almost 24 percent from 1990 to 2000.

The increase is “significant,” McCarty said, adding that the rise in fatalities and the decrease in walking produce an increase in the rate.

Injuries were not accounted for in the study because “there was no standard way to measure them,” said Isabel Kaldenbach, a spokeswoman for STPP.

Local planners also said they were not content, despite the area’s high ranking.

The high ranking indicates that the metro area, which includes all of Champaign County, is doing some things well, said Bruce Knight, Champaign city planner. But more can be done, Knight said.

In 1998, Champaign, Urbana, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the C-U Mass Transit Department and the University worked with a Kansas City consulting firm to complete the planning phase of the Campus Area Transportation Study (CATS).

The program is in the second phase of the study, which has included narrowing Green Street, implementing countdown signals, reducing speed limits and adding new crosswalks.

These changes were made along with the Campustown Infrastructure Project. Both projects have the goal of increasing safety.

Walking is the most dangerous mode of transportation, according to the STPP report. The fatality rate was more than 20 times higher for pedestrians than for public transit riders and automobile drivers in 2001, the report showed.

The study reported that Illinois spent 1 percent of its federal transportation funds on pedestrian and bicycle projects, amounting to 65 cents per person. The national average is 0.9 percent and 82 cents per person.

State departments of transportation typically control the vast majority of federal funds, and federally funded roads tend to be designed and built with little regard to local needs, said McCarty. Local governments often submit safety projects to states, but if the state requires them to complete the project before being reimbursed they are unable to afford it, he said.

Despite funding difficulties, McCarty encouraged local governments to think of pedestrian and bicyclist safety in city planning.

“Pedestrain safety is everybody’s business – big and small cities,” he said.