The age old saying “look both ways before you cross the street” is well, not really an age old saying. Before the advent of cars - of drunk drivers and angry daily commuters - looking both ways before you crossed the street didn’t necessarily lead to life or death scenarios.
Don’t get me wrong, getting trampled by a horse could kill you, it was just not nearly as likely.
But cars and their masters are apparently not fully to blame. There is an added factor to the striking disparity between rates of pedestrian accidents in some neighborhoods over others: how much money you have in the bank.
Rutgers graduate student, Daniel Kravetz found what he calls “a statistically significant relationship” between low income neighborhoods in several counties in Northern New Jersey and high rates of pedestrian crashes.
“The higher the income level, the lower the likelihood for crashes to occur in an area,” Kravetz says. “And that was found in almost any study that analyzed that relationship.”
Kravetz’s article states, “Environmental Justice legislation has proliferated in the last two decades as a method for community activists to challenge federally-funded projects if they perceive that they may have a disproportionate impact on low income communities of color.
Recently, arguments have surfaced suggesting that disparities in traffic safety investments be included under the umbrella of environmental justice.”
Kavetz is not the only researcher calling attention to traffic safety as a justice issue.
A new study lead by Patrick Morency, the director of Montreal’s Department of Public Health, also concludes that city infrastructure is the primary problem.
According to the research, pedestrians in the poorest neighborhoods of Montreal are six times more likely to suffer traffic injuries than pedestrians in the wealthiest neighborhoods.
While car ownership, prevalence of drunk driving, use of public transportation, and driving speeds have all been explored as explanations for inequalities in pedestrian traffic injuries, researchers point most fiercely to urban planning.
“It was easier to build expressways in the poorer areas because people didn’t mobilize—and the land was cheaper,” Morency says. “Once these designs are implemented, it reduces the land value, so it attracts poorer people.”
Reid Ewing, a city-planning professor from the University of Utah says, “People don’t think of traffic safety as an environmental justice issue. Low-income people are disadvantaged in a lot of different ways, including traffic safety.”
Add pedestrian-friendly road infrastructure to the list of publicly used spaces and institutions that suffer for lack of local cash. At least you can’t get arrested for using the safer crosswalk next-door. I’m thinking of Tanya McDowell, the homeless woman who got arrested last month for sending her son to a better school out of her district by lying about her address.
Back in New Jersey, road safety is so bad adults are still warning each other to “look both ways before crossing the street”. Edward Vargas, a 20-year old who has lived in Newark his whole life, talks about crossing the street as if it were an art form; “This intersection [Park and Fourth], if you are not careful, you are definitely going to get hit by something. You gotta know how to cross the street – that’s just Newark in general. You gotta know how to cross the street…I don’t know why it is, it’s just how it’s been, since I’ve been growing up here.”