Even if Americans were to heed calls to park their cars and make their journeys on foot, they are hindered in this healthy endeavor by "a range of other public policies that make these activities inconvenient, unpleasant and above all, unsafe," according to a report in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
"Per kilometer traveled, [American] pedestrians were 23 times more likely to get killed than car occupants in 2001, while bicyclists were 12 times more likely than car occupants to get killed," say John Pucher, Ph.D., of Rutgers University and Lewis Dijkstra, Ph.D., of the European Commission.
But Americans can learn some safety lessons from the Germans and Dutch, who have reduced their rates of pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries during the last two decades, according to the researchers.
For instance, streets in Germany and the Netherlands have more car-free zones, median islands, well-marked crosswalks, and bike paths and lanes joined in a coordinated network lacking in American cities.
"Dutch and German bikeway systems serve practical destinations for everyday travel, not just recreational attractions, as with most bike paths in America," Pucher says.
Reduced speed limits, along with speed bumps, deliberate dead ends and truck bans are also part of efforts to "calm" traffic in residential areas in the two countries. City center speed limits and limited and expensive parking help regulate traffic in more urban areas. Neighborhood design also encourages safe walking and riding by clustering residential and commercial building developments together.
Pucher and Dijkstra say that German and Dutch traffic laws are strictly enforced as well, with motorists "almost always found to be at least partly at fault" in accidents with pedestrian and
Contact: John Pucher
Center for the Advancement of Health