Traffic as a Barrier to Walking Safely in the United States: Perceived Reasons and Potential Mitigation Strategies

Key takeaways:

  • In this study, nearly 25 percent of people consider traffic a barrier to walking. Of this group, 80 percent cite vehicle speed as the major cause of concern. 
  • Also of concern are the number of vehicles and distracted driving. The type of vehicle (e.g., large trucks) was not a significant concern.
  • People who use walking as a mode of transportation are more likely to perceive the number of vehicles as a barrier than people who walk for recreational purposes.
  • Improved sidewalks were seen as the best way to improve walkability. Other options included crosswalks, pedestrian signals, street lighting, traffic calming, separating the sidewalk/road, and road diet.


  • Improving and adding sidewalks to create a connected network for pedestrians goes a long way in terms of people’s perceptions of safety. Sidewalks are foundational to walkability, and they must be maintained for continuous use.
  • Previous research has relied on quantitative data to improve safety for people walking. For example, determining the number of crosswalks or pedestrian signals on a particular stretch of road. Additional research on people’s perceptions of the safety of specific mitigation strategies can lead to improvements that encourage more people to walk.
  • Study participants, and the public in general, do not perceive lane reduction and road design as safety mitigation. More education and outreach are needed regarding the potential benefits of these strategies.
  • Vehicle speed is consistently perceived as a barrier to walking; objective crash data substantiate this perception. This problem is particularly important on arterial roads characterized by high speed, high volume, and multiple lanes. Since this is a policy issue, advocates and safe routes practitioners should invite local transportation specialists to meet with communities to discuss problem areas (roads, intersections, school zones, etc.) and potential solutions.

Soto, G.W., Whitfield, G.P., Webber, B.J., Omura, J.D., Chen, T.J., Zaganjor, H., and Rose, K. “Traffic as a Barrier to Walking Safely in the United States: Perceived Reasons and Potential Mitigation Strategies.” Preventive Medicine Reports 30 (2022).

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