Over the last decade the number of pedestrian fatalities and injuries has grown rapidly -- far outpacing the growth of the city. Just ten years ago in 2010 there were 14 people killed while walking. Last year in 2020, Nashville lost 39 pedestrians -- nearly triple the amount. This increase has far out paced the growth of the population of Nashville, and is unlikely to turn around without a different approach to how we design and manage our busiest streets. While there are a number of factors at play in pedestrian crashes, it is clear that these crashes are not occurring randomly. There are strong trends in when and where they are taking place. We know which streets are the most deadly, and we know that certain parts of the city are seeing more deadly crashes. We dove into the MNPD crash reports to look at some of these deadly trends.
Crash Trends over the past 5 Years: 80% of fatalities on State Roads
More than 80% of all pedestrian fatalities occurred on wide, state-controlled arterial roads. These arterial roads have speed limits over 30 mph, multiple lanes, few safe crosswalks and high numbers of transit riders.
Just a handful of these busy, wide state roads account for the majority of crashes. These same streets see crashes year after year.
Poor lighting and time of day is also a significant factor, with most crashes happening between 6 pm - 6 am. This raises the question of whether street lighting itself should be considered a critical part of safety infrastructure.
An Unequal Burden: The relationship between income and safety
It is also clear that not all parts of the city have seen the same spike in pedestrian fatalities. There is a strong correlation between pedestrian and driver collisions and parts of our city with more people living at or below poverty. In the map below we overlaid the 2016-2020 pedestrian fatality locations and census data showing average household income. This map was made using Urban Footprint, which WBN has access to through a grant from Spin.
Transportation Equity: Infrastructure Investments to Address Safety
Additional study is needed to determine what is causing this strong correlation between pedestrian fatalities and parts of the city that have lower average household income, but it’s clear that the our most deadly streets are not distributed evenly across Nashville. Parts of our city are suffering more than others.
This is why equity must be placed at the center of all conversations about infrastructure investments in Nashville and in the city’s upcoming Vision Zero Plan. Investments like sidewalks, traffic calming, and Vision Zero countermeasures should be prioritized to address neighborhoods that have long been left behind and are seeing higher number of serious and fatal crashes.