Pedestrian Counts and Trends

Until recently, only vehicles and vehicle trips were routinely counted, so it’s not surprising that they receive the most attention when roads are built or expanded, or when private development is evaluated. It is important to include pedestrian counts into planning decisions. Good sources are the U.S. Census and American Community Survey data or specific Journey to Work data. Other useful travel data comes from the National Household Travel Survey and the National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors. These data, as well as locally collected walking counts can be used in conjunction with crash data to provide justification for pedestrian safety improvements. See how Cambridge, Massachusetts used Census data to better understand the role of walking.

Advocacy Tips:

When trips by walking aren’t counted, they remain invisible to engineers and planners, so go get those numbers! Request that pedestrian counts be incorporated into any large planning effort, including:

  • Regional Transportation Plans (required every 3-4 years in all U.S. metropolitan regions)
  • Pre-project and post-construction pedestrian counts in roadway plans and associated environmental review documents
  • Pre- and post-project counts in land development plans or environmental documents
  • Local comprehensive plans, aka General Plans

If all else fails, organize your own volunteers to conduct counts in locations you’re most concerned about; city staff may be willing to help with manpower or equipment.

Pedestrian Injuries and Fatalities

One factor in prioritizing pedestrian safety improvements is recognizing where pedestrians have been injured or killed. Using data from the last five years is better than, say, averaging over a 15-year period, since significant alterations in the roadway or adjacent land uses may have occurred during this period. Further, understanding common accident types (e.g., dart-outs by young children, sideswipes by right-turning vehicles, etc.) and locations (e.g., intersections vs. mid-block) can help communities determine the best countermeasures for improving the safety of pedestrians. However, since the number of fatalities alone can often be quite low, especially for small towns, agencies should also have a way of counting and tracking near-miss events.

Information on finding pedestrian data and statistics, is available here. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hosts the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a database of fatal motor vehicle crashes. Users can find specific information about crashes, including those involving pedestrians. Local sources include police departments, municipal traffic engineering departments, and local hospitals.

Advocacy Tip:

Crash data sources are notoriously incomplete. Police records differ substantially from those of trauma centers or emergency rooms. These sources should be contacted as well.