In 2013, an estimated 70 000 pedestrians were injured or killed by motor vehicles in the United States. In New York City more pedestrians than vehicle occupants have been killed by motor vehicles each year since at least 1910. Pedestrian safety is not only vital for public health directly through reduced traffic-related morbidity and mortality, but also indirectly as the perception of increased safety from traffic encourages outdoor physical activity, with consequent mental and physical health benefits.
We just published an article in the American Journal of Public Health in which we use Google Street View to identify characteristics of streets and intersections associated with pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Following up on our work using Street View to conduct virtual street audits (1, 2, 3), we used the CANVAS system to collect data on built environment characteristics at street intersections with varying numbers of pedestrian injuries. Higher counts of pedestrian injuries at intersections were associated with the presence of nearby billboards and bus-stops. Injury incidence per pedestrian was lower at intersections with higher estimated pedestrian volumes.
The use of virtual street audits allowed us to complete the research in a much shorter time period than comparable studies that use in-person audits to collect data at intersections. We are planning to expand this research to conduct a nationwide study of built environment risk factors for pedestrian injury.