Three years ago, when I first moved to Memphis, I was alarmed by the lack of non-motorized transit options for residents in the city. Without having a car, I found it extremely difficult to take advantage of professional opportunities, access grocery stores, travel to work, or attend recreational events.
While I am fortunate enough to afford ride shares like Lyft and Uber, there are times that I have found myself waiting 30 to 45 minutes for a driver, and I have noticed that the further you get from the core of the city, the less likely you are to secure a ride. I thought about how this issue is worse for those who do not have access to private cars, bikes, or even walkable streets that connect to public transit opportunities.
Given my own experiences, I became interested in the intersections between transportation and economic mobility, especially the disparate impact that these issues have on people of color-----particularly black neighborhoods. Determined to make a difference, I joined the America Walks Walking College to learn how to be a stronger advocate for walkable communities, understand existing transportation policies, and work to creates safer environments with equitable outcomes.
The Walking College prepares community development practitioners, policy makers, and advocates to hone their skills and knowledge around creating vibrant, safe, accessible communities for all. As a fellow, I learned about the historical underpinnings of the car-centric transportation landscape, the basics of design and policy of non-motorized transportation, and developed essential leadership skills. Most notably, I was able to design a Walking Action Plan--a step by step guide on how leaders can address transportation and mobility issues in neighborhoods.
Over 5,000 pedestrians die from traffic fatalities every year. To provide context, that is 1 death every 88 minutes, and the numbers are only rising. Last year, Memphis was ranked the third deadliest city in the country for pedestrians. Over 170 people lost their lives to traffic violence in 2020, and Shelby county outpaces any other county in Tennessee on the number of times pedestrians have been seriously injured or killed. When looking at the relative pedestrian danger across race and ethnicities, the burden is not shared equally. Black or African Americans (89%) and Native Americans (111.5 %) had the highest chance of being struck and killed.1 Low income, urban neighborhoods, and older adults are disproportionately represented in fatal crashes involving people walking—even after controlling for differences in population size and walking rates.2
The issue of pedestrian safety in Memphis is one compounded by poverty. Disinvested communities bear the brunt of pedestrian safety issues. The lack of adequate sidewalks, wide open streets, poor walking infrastructure, and a low-functioning public transit system in the city encourage pedestrians and drivers to make dangerous decisions that increases the likelihood of crashes. I envision a community in Memphis where everyone, no matter their race, age, economic status, or ability can move freely around this city. My walking action plan will focus on raising awareness around traffic violence in four anchor neighborhoods, partnering with community development corporations and neighborhood leaders to advance plans that increase walkability. Together we can advocate to the City and Shelby County to adopt a vision zero policy-- a goal and commitment to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries among road users within a set timeframe. Given the upcoming Shelby county elections in 2022 and the announcement of a year long pedestrian safety campaign by the city, the time is now for county commissioners and city officials to take a bold stance on the rising issue of pedestrian fatalities throughout the Memphis region. Every Memphian, whether they bike, walk, drive, or take public transit, should be able to use our roads safely, without fear of consequence. In Memphis, we need public policies and dedicated funding that ensure complete streets, adequate sidewalks, pedestrian infrastructure for walking and biking, and a functioning public transit system. To do this we must build awareness around pedestrian fatalities, increase the capacity of community leaders to address these issues within neighborhoods, unify existing pedestrian and transit groups, and collectively advocate for the safe and walkable communities we deserve.
- 1) America, S. G. (2021). Dangerous by Design. http://www. smartgrowthamerica.org/research/dangerous-by-design/dbd2014/home/(accessed July 23, 2021).
- 2) Ibid.