Seattle Tops U.S. for Pedestrian Safety as Detroit Trails

Seattle, where a crowd of football fans celebrating a Super Bowl victory waited at a crosswalk for a signal change this year, is the safest U.S. city for pedestrians, according to a study by Liberty Mutual Holding Co.

The city in Washington state has few pedestrian deaths and has invested in infrastructure that residents say makes walking safer, the insurer said today in releasing the results. Boston was the second-safest among the 25 cities studied, followed by Washington, D.C. Detroit was the most dangerous.

More than 4,700 U.S. pedestrians were killed in 2012, about the same number of fatalities suffered in 2000, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show. About five percent more Americans are walking to work than in 2000, meaning the death rate has declined, according to Census data.

“It’s a combination of many things: infrastructure improvements, education improvements,” Dave Melton, Liberty Mutual’s managing director of global safety, said in an interview. “All of those things have an impact.”

Liberty Mutual said cities were evaluated on traffic data, infrastructure and residents’ perceptions about safety.

More than 108,000 people in Seattle commuted daily on foot in 2008 to 2012, including those who walk to public transportation, Census data show. Nine pedestrians were killed by motorists in 2012. The city has installed more than 500 crosswalks since that year and improved walking routes for schoolchildren, according to the Boston-based insurer’s study.

Orderly Mob

After the Seattle Seahawks won the National Football League championship game in February, throngs of fans took to the streets. The far-from-rowdy crowd was captured on video refusing to jaywalk, instead patiently waiting to cross an intersection.

The incident “may be ultimate proof that Pacific Northwesterners may be too square, even when we’re wildly celebrating a moment of triumph in the streets,” Joseph Rose, a reporter for the Oregonian newspaper, wrote about a video of the celebration he’d posted on the Internet.

Summer Newman, a musician from Bainbridge Island, Washington, said drivers should get credit for the region’s safety record.

Cautious, Respectful

“I jaywalk all the time,” Newman said while carrying a banjo, accordion and fiddle near Seattle’s Pike Place market. Throughout the area, “the cars are pretty cautious and respectful of pedestrians.”

New York City, where 54 percent of households don’t have cars, is the fifth-safest city for walkers, according to the Liberty Mutual ranking.

Melton said that countdown lights and flashers at crosswalks help prevent accidents because they force walkers and drivers to focus on the road. Even so, mobile-phone use by both motorists and pedestrians is “rearing its ugly head,” causing accidents and fatalities, he said.

“The human brain doesn’t multitask,” Melton said. “It switches back and forth.”

Mobile Phones

More than two-thirds of motorists say they’ve talked on a mobile phone while in transit, even though most drivers consider such conversations dangerous, Liberty Mutual found in a study published last year. About half of pedestrians say they chatted on the phone while crossing a street.

Liberty Mutual said the findings published today are based on traffic statistics, data about pedestrian-safety programs and phone interviews in March 2014 with a total of 2,500 residents in the 25 cities. The study was done by research firm ORC International.

Liberty Mutual is the second-largest property-casualty insurer in the U.S. by policy sales, trailing only State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., according to data compiled by A.M. Best. Both companies are owned by their policyholders.

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