Can Better Urban Planning Reduce Pedestrian and Bicycle Accidents?

By Peter DePaolis

Drivers cause most bicycle and pedestrian accidents in Maryland. Driver negligence, however, is not the only factor involved in serious collisions. Sometimes, a roadway or crosswalk’s design contributes to bicycle and pedestrian accidents. Negligent urban planning and poor roadway maintenance cause deadly collisions each year. In 2018, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration recorded 3,294 pedestrian and 742 bicycle accidents. These collisions caused hundreds of injuries and took many lives. Better urban planning could have the power to prevent vulnerable roadway user accidents in Maryland.

Engineering Improvements Can Save Lives

While it is important to focus on driver education and changing human behaviors, city engineering can also play a role in preventing bicycle and pedestrian accidents. City planners have a responsibility to design and create reasonably safe roadways. In doing so, they should not only focus on the needs of drivers but also the road’s most vulnerable users: pedestrians and cyclists. City planners can use several proven strategies and design elements to improve pedestrian safety.

  • Speed bumps
  • Traffic circles
  • Pedestrian bridges
  • Control signals at crosswalks
  • Wider sidewalks
  • Better signage

Smart city engineering should reduce traffic speeds in high pedestrian traffic areas, focus on complete streets, create safe bicycle lanes and give pedestrians safe spaces to walk. The design of a roadway and its surrounding sidewalks, bike paths and crosswalks could drastically improve vulnerable road user safety. Better urban design in Maryland’s busiest cities could reduce the number of injured and killed bicyclists and pedestrians each year.

Calling on Mayors for Change

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recognizes the need for city leaders to tackle road challenges, spread safety awareness and decrease the risk of accidents. DOT created the Mayor’s Challenge as a way to motivate community leaders to take responsibility for roadway safety. The Mayor’s Challenge led to 80 communities making changes and submitting their progress reports to DOT in one year alone. Communities that took on the Mayor’s Challenge focused on seven main tasks.

  1. Complete Streets. Complete Streets is an approach to roadway design that prioritizes every road user, not just drivers.
  2. Fix barriers. Leaders had to identify and overcome barriers that could get in the way of safe and inclusive roadway use.
  3. Gather data. Traffic accident data could hold the key to understanding bicycle and pedestrian activities and how to keep them safe via roadway infrastructure.
  4. Design right. The fourth challenge was to design a street safely based on context: its number of users, vehicle volume, speed limit, etc.
  5. Create networks. Communities should create roadway and sidewalk networks for non-motorized road users to improve accessibility and safety.
  6. Improve laws. Mayors should establish ordinances that prioritize bicyclist and pedestrian safety.
  7. Educate and enforce. Educating the public through group meetings, awareness campaigns and activities such as police station partnerships could prevent accidents.

The Mayor’s Challenge encompassed all the steps a city needs to take to reasonably ensure the safety of its most vulnerable road users. These seven urban planning priorities could change the landscape of a city for bicyclists and pedestrians. Mayors and other city leaders can take the DOT challenge to motivate real change in their communities. Several cities in Maryland took the challenge and have already improved problem areas on their roads, crosswalks and sidewalks.

Advocating for Change in Your City

If you believe your city has inherent urban planning problems that contribute to traffic-human collisions, file a complaint with city representatives. Raise awareness of the issue in your community by notifying city leaders and hosting safety meetings in your neighborhood. Become a pedestrian/bicyclist advocate by educating others using crash facts. Advocating for better urban planning could push for real change in your community, and may prevent devastating traffic accidents in the future.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.