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Episode 511 of 525

Beth Osborne: America's Roads are "Dangerous by Design"

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station description Interviews, commentary and discussion at the heart of the Strong Towns movement.
The Strong Towns Podcast
Duration: 51:34
The numbers are staggering, saddening, maddening.

From 2010-2019, 53,435 people were killed by drivers while walking. That’s up 45% from the previous decade. In 2019, the last year for which we have complete data, 6,237 people were struck and killed...the equivalent of more than 17 per day. The yea
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The numbers are staggering, saddening, maddening.

From 2010-2019, 53,435 people were killed by drivers while walking. That’s up 45% from the previous decade. In 2019, the last year for which we have complete data, 6,237 people were struck and killed...the equivalent of more than 17 per day. The years from 2016-2019 were the four deadliest years in nearly three decades. And early numbers indicate that 2020—a year in which driving was down 13% due to the pandemic—actually saw an increased death rate.

What’s going on? With so much money and lip service (“Safety is our top priority”) paid to safety, why do these numbers so consistently go the wrong direction?

For more than a decade, our friends at Transportation for America have been analyzing the data and drawing attention to the epidemic of pedestrian deaths. Their latest report, Dangerous by Design 2021, describes the ten-year increase in deaths as “a failure of our government at nearly all levels.” And they urge policymakers to reconsider or abandon an approach that simply isn’t working:


Many states and localities have spent the last ten years focusing on enforcement, running ineffectual education campaigns, or blaming the victims of these crashes, while often ignoring the role of roadway design in these deaths. Meanwhile the death count has continued to climb year after year. States and localities cannot simply deploy the same playbook and expect this trend to change—they need a fundamentally different approach to the problem. They need to acknowledge that their approach to building and operating streets and roads is contributing to these deaths.


We are pleased to welcome Beth Osborne, the Director of Transportation for America, to this week’s episode of The Strong Towns Podcast. Before joining Transportation for America, Osborne served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation. She also worked in multiple congressional offices, served as the policy director for Smart Growth America, and as the legislative director for environmental policy at the Southern Governors’ Association.

In this episode, Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talks with Osborne about the Dangerous by Design 2021 report, about how engineers and policymakers know what it takes to #SlowTheCars and reduce deaths, and about why they yet fail to act on it. They discuss the need to make behaving safely the easiest thing to do, and the mixed message we send drivers about pedestrian safety. And they discuss the good news/bad news about bipartisanship around this issue, whether to be optimistic about a Mayor Pete D.O.T., and what local leaders can do right now to make their own streets safer.

Additional Show Notes:

Dangerous by Design 2021




Transportation for America




Smart Growth America




COVID and the Curb




Dangerous by Design Webinar (March 25)




Beth Osborne (Twitter)




Charles Marohn (Twitter)




Strong Towns content related to this issue:


“Pedestrian Deaths Are Up 45% in the Last Decade. When Is Enough Enough?” by Daniel Herriges




“What Can We Hope For from a Mayor Pete D.O.T.? (Podcast)




“This Will Change How You Hear Traffic Reports,” by Daniel Herriges




“The Most Important Pedestrian Safety Document You've Never Heard Of,” by Angie Schmitt & Mike McGinn




“Now Is the Time to End Traffic Fatalities. Here's a Simple Plan to Do It.” by Charles Marohn
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