Birmingham ranks 13th most dangerous for walking in the U.S. Will Complete Streets policies make us safer?

Birmingham, Alabama, Complete Streets, city council, pedestrian, cyclist
Birmingham, Alabama, Complete Streets, city council, pedestrian, cyclist
Students from Hemphill Elementary, via Facebook

Last month, Smart Growth America released a report titled Dangerous by Design which documented the number of people who were struck and killed by automobiles walking on streets from 2008 to 2017.  In the report, according to their metrics, the Birmingham metro area ranked 13th nationally, as the most dangerous city for walking.

An epidemic that is getting worse

Over the past decade drivers struck and killed 49,340 people who were walking on streets all across the United States. That’s more than 13 people per day, or one person every hour and 46 minutes.

While automobile deaths have decreased by 6%, pedestrian fatalities  have increased 35% between 2008 to 2017.

Fatalities on Highway 280

Last month, 41 year old Jackie Prestley was struck and killed trying to cross Highway 280.  According to ABC 33/40, since 2014, there have been seven fatalities along Highway 280 in the small stretch between between Best Buy and LongHorn Steakhouse alone.

The answer: Complete Streets

Birmingham, Alabama, Complete Streets
Complete Streets at work in Philadelphia, PA, via Philly Magazine

In response to the rising number of pedestrian deaths nationwide, Smart Growth America is calling on Congress to adopt a strong, federal Complete Streets policy that requires state departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to consistently plan for all people who use the street, including the most vulnerable users.

In 2018, the city of Birmingham passed a Complete Streets ordinance, joining  Homewood, Midfield and Bessemer in the metro area.

“The Complete Streets ordinance codified the idea that the City of Birmingham’s streets are more than thoroughfares for automobiles. They must also accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, and mass transit wherever possible,” stated Darrell O’Quinn, Birmingham City Councilman  and chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee.

O’Quinn added:

Darrell O'Quinn Birmingham City Council Candidate
Darrell O’Quinn, submitted photo

“The ordinance mandates a multimodal approach to street design. There was a period of time where pedestrians and other modes were completely disregarded, literally a “no one will ever walk again” mindset. Automobiles were king and governments subsidized their use at the expense of all else. We’ve now realized how shortsighted and foolish that was. However, this has happened only relatively recently. We’ve got a lot of work to do to make our infrastructure more equitable. The Complete Streets ordinance is a tool that helps get us there.”

Along with support from the city, Complete Streets policies have received backing from numerous local civic organizations, including:

AARP of Alabama
Birmingham Business Alliance
Disability Rights & Resources and the American Heart Association
Freshwater Land Trust
Lakeshore Foundation
Redemptive Cycles
REV Birmingham
University of Alabama at Birmingham
United Way of Central Alabama

Policy tools

Hopefully, through the passage of  the Complete Streets ordinance, Birmingham now has the tools to make our communities safer for walking. Additional metro cities need to also adopt the Complete Streets policies.

It is a matter of life and death. To learn more about the Smart Growth America  and the Dangerous by Design report, download it – HERE.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.