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Social Equity in Pedestrian Collision Trends, Reporting and Decision Making


In spite of relatively stable nationwide walking rates, pedestrian traffic deaths have been on the rise over the past ten years. In particular, Black, American Indian, or Alaskan Native people and people walking in low-income communities have been shown to be disproportionately killed in traffic collisions (1). An emerging body of research has identified a racial bias in motorist yielding behavior, with drivers shown to be less likely to yield to Black pedestrians than to white pedestrians (2, 3). Driver behavior and potential biases, as well as land use and transportation infrastructure, have exacerbated the disparity in outcomes from a social equity perspective.

Gaining a deeper understanding of the causes of and solutions to the disproportionate burden on historically marginalized groups requires a multi-sectoral and multi-step approach. The first step (the what) involves quantifying the safety impacts of prescribed engineering solutions, the next step (the how) involves analyzing programmatic interventions that could reduce pedestrian deaths, and the last step is putting the knowledge into action in a context sensitive way (when and where).


The research would present recommendations for incorporation of systemic risk and social equity in the current pedestrian crash reporting processes. The proposed research would build on the identified disparate collision and injury/death outcomes, and on work that has identified racial bias in motorist yielding behavior. The proposed research would additionally build on the research conducted and tool provided from NCHRP Report 893.

Lastly, the research would develop practice-ready tools to incorporate systemic risk assessment and social equity in pedestrian safety project prioritization.

Successful execution of this research project will include at least:

  • Synthesis of practice. A review of approaches taken at the city, county, and state level to assess and prioritize pedestrian safety needs for improvement projects, particularly with respect to a systemic approach and with respect to promoting social equity. The synthesis will involve:

    • Identifying engineering solutions. There are engineering solutions available for unsuitable infrastructure (including separation from vehicle traffic) and for vegetation maintenance needs.
    • Programmatic interventions that could reduce pedestrian deaths.
  • Develop systemic assessment tool. Develop framework and tool for proactively prioritizing pedestrian safety projects with respect to systemic transportation safety risk and social equity. The research and tools will help planners, engineers, advocates, and policy makers to better understand the equity impacts of infrastructural and non-infrastructural investments, especially in underserved communities across the U.S. It will provide insights on ways to weigh and prioritize different risk factors that impact pedestrian safety. The tool that builds on the systemic and equity-focused framework would be practice ready and would be a resource for jurisdictions and agencies that do not currently plan and prioritize in this way.
Related Research:

Several studies and syntheses in the past decade have helped with the first step in the process, quantifying expected safety improvement (i.e., crash reduction factors, or CRFs) associated with engineering treatments for pedestrians (4). While CRFs for some treatments are more robustly developed than others, this foundation has generally equipped practitioners with an understanding of the relative appropriateness and effectiveness of implementing specific safety treatments.

The least studied part of the process is addressing the when and where. A socially equitable method of identifying locations and timing for safety treatments is dependent on a prioritization framework that explicitly tries to reverse disparity in outcomes for historically marginalized populations. Given the disparate outcomes with respect to pedestrian safety, social equity might be inherently included in an examination of collision history but is best included explicitly. Many cities, including Oakland, California, have become explicit about incorporating social equity goals in project prioritization (5).

Demonstrated crash history (both intensity and volume) plays a significant role in identifying priority locations for safety treatments. But basing safety decisions solely on collision history is reactive. Practitioners can instead identify systemic characteristics among high-collision locations (risk factors) and use these factors to identify high-risk locations without demonstrated collision history.

Tools to incorporate a systemic, risk-based approach to safety prioritization with a focus on promoting socially equitable outcomes would bring jurisdictions along in a twofold industry evolution: away from chasing hot spots to proactively promoting pedestrian safety, and with a renewed focus on equity. Such a tool would help to ensure traditionally underserved communities, who are disproportionately involved in collisions, benefit from safety investments. This tool could build off of the foundation provided by both NCHRP Report 893 - Systemic Pedestrian Safety Analysis and NCHRP Report 803 – Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation Along Existing Roads – ActiveTrans Priority Tool Guidebook (7, 8).


A key outcome of this research would be a framework and tool for proactively identifying priority pedestrian safety projects (rather than a reactive hot spot approach) and for incorporating social equity into that prioritization. This tool would enable practitioners to prioritize pedestrian safety projects without waiting for collisions to occur, and help to ensure socially equitable outcomes. This research would influence the way that jurisdictions and agencies assess existing pedestrian safety conditions and prioritize safety projects to promote safety and social equity.

Sponsoring Committee:ACH20, Bicycle Transportation
Research Period:12 - 24 months
RNS Developer:Torsha Bhattacharya, Mike Alston
Source Info:1. “Dangerous by Design.” Smart Growth America, 2019. https://smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design/. Accessed April 2, 2019.
2. Kahn, Kimberly. “Racial Bias in Drivers’ Yielding Behavior at Crosswalks: Understanding the Effect.” TREC, 2017-869. https://nitc.trec.pdx.edu/research/project/869
3. Goddard, Tara; Kimberly Kahn, Arlie Adkins. “Racial bias in driver yielding behavior at crosswalks.” Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, Volume 33, 2015. 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trf.2015.06.002
4. NCHRP Synthesis 498 - Application of Pedestrian Crossing Treatments for Streets and Highways (2016)
5. Street Story, Berkeley SafeTREC. https://safetrec.berkeley.edu/tools/street-story-platform-community-engagement. Accessed April 2, 2019.
6. Oakland Department of Transportation Strategic Plan. October 4, 2016. https://www.oaklandca.gov/documents/city-of-oakland-department-of-transportation-strategic-plan. Accessed April 2, 2019.
7. NCHRP Research Report 893: Systemic Pedestrian Safety Analysis.
8. NCHRP Research Report 803: Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation Along Existing Roads – ActiveTrans Priority Tool Guidebook
Date Posted:10/27/2020
Date Modified:01/15/2021
Index Terms:Equity (Justice), Pedestrian safety, Pedestrians, Traffic crashes, African Americans, Crash reports, Behavior,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Pedestrians and Bicyclists

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