Smart Planning Boosts Seattle To #1 City For Pedestrians

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

Seattle trolley with bike and crosswalk sign.

The U.S. pedestrian population is on the rise, increasing by 24 million people between 2005 and 2010 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). With 4,302 pedestrian fatalities reported in 2010 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), protecting the walking masses is an important issue. In an effort to raise awareness and identify best practices for keeping pedestrians safe, Liberty Mutual Insurance released the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index, ranking America’s 15 safest pedestrian cities, based on city statistics and residents’ and commuters’ perceptions of safety.

Seattle rose to the top of the list as the safest U.S. city for pedestrians. With more than 108,000 residents commuting on foot or by public transportation each day, the city has less than 10 pedestrian fatalities each year. These impressive statistics are likely the result of a number of safety programs the city has put in place in recent years. From the “Safest Route to School” Program, which keeps the youngest Seattleites safe with 501 new crosswalks, improved school walking routes and school zone speed cameras, to the “Be Super Safe” campaign aimed at eliminating dangerous driving behaviors, Seattle has made pedestrian safety a top priority. Seattle residents agree, with 96 percent of those surveyed reporting feeling that the city is safe for pedestrians and 97 percent saying that the city is proactive in ensuring pedestrian safety.

“We are seeing a dangerously high rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities across the country, so it’s promising to see cities like Seattle dedicating the necessary resources to ensure the safety of their citizens,” said David Melton, managing director of global safety and driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance. “The goal of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index is to recognize the U.S. cities that are taking exceptional measures to keep their streets safe and to help others across the country learn from those best practices.”

The Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index is based on published government data and a consumer perception survey of more than 2,500 adults. Based on these factors, Seattle, Boston, and Washington, DC rose to the top of the list as the safest cities for pedestrians, followed by San Francisco and New York:

Top 15 Safest U.S. Cities for Pedestrians

  1. Seattle, WA
  2. Boston, MA
  3. Washington, DC
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. New York, NY
  6. Portland, OR
  7. Pittsburgh, PA
  8. Minneapolis, MN
  9. Chicago, IL
  10. Atlanta, GA
  11. Denver, CO
  12. Philadelphia, PA
  13. Baltimore, MD
  14. Columbus, OH
  15. Los Angeles, CA

Survey respondents cite adequate traffic signs, high visibility crosswalks, adequate signal time to cross streets and street lighting, among some of the key components for pedestrian safety. The cities at the top of the list have made these safety features a priority, in addition to other initiatives and programs focused on keeping pedestrians safe.

Best Practices from the Top Ranked Cities

Cities that rank the highest boast a combination of legislation and smart city planning. The leading cities in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index have laws in place to either limit or ban texting and talking on the phone while driving. In addition to strict cell phone rules, many have also implemented rigorous safety programs and invested heavily in infrastructure to protect pedestrians.

  • In Boston, pedestrians walk safely thanks to the installation of 195 traffic-monitoring cameras, more than 3,600 public safety signs posted annually, and more than 90 city traffic signals retimed in 2013. Residents have taken note of the city’s efforts with 97 percent reporting that the city is proactive in fostering pedestrian safety.
  • The Washington, DC Department of Transportation has implemented a number of programs aimed at improving the safe flow of city-wide vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles to reduce traffic injuries and accidents. New LED lights have brightened the city streets and the number of bike lanes is expanded each year. These improvements have not gone unnoticed – 95 percent of surveyed Metro DC residents agree that the city is taking measures to ensure safety.
  • While four of five San Franciscans consider the city a safe place for pedestrians, 96 percent of those surveyed agree that the city is proactively working to improve safety. Last April, Mayor Ed Lee released the Pedestrian Strategy to reduce pedestrian traffic fatalities by 25 percent by 2016, and 50 percent by 2021 by focusing on fixing 44 miles of the city’s most dangerous streets.
  • Nearly 2.5 million people commute on foot and by public transportation each day in New York City, and 90 percent of those surveyed consider the city to be safe for pedestrians, and another 95 percent agree the city is proactive in ensuring safety. The New York City Department of Transportation’s commitment to improving safety includes hundreds of traffic calming projects, education campaigns, technological applications, stronger regulations, improved street markings and signage, and an expanded network of red light cameras. The city’s efforts are working, and since 2004 New York City has boasted the lowest number of annual traffic deaths since 1910.
  • Portland has empowered citizens to play an important role in increasing safety with the establishment of the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a standing citizen advisory group active since the early 1990s, working to make the city better and safer for pedestrians. The committee’s efforts appear to be effective, as 97 percent of residents and commuters agree that the city is working to keep pedestrians safe.

Aggressive goals to reduce traffic accidents, infrastructure investment and a focus on school zones are the hallmarks of high-ranking cities for pedestrian safety. Cities that score the highest on the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index have taken innovative and proactive approaches to ensuring the safety of their walking citizens.

Pedestrians and Drivers Must Stay Vigilant

“Our research demonstrates that people realize the danger of risky behaviors, such as texting or talking on a phone while walking or driving, but the majority of Americans adopts an ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude,” said Melton. “The Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index reveals that the combination of simple, yet essential, city-wide safety features—from lighted crosswalks to bike lanes, attentive pedestrians, and a zero-tolerance policy for cell phone use behind the wheel means safer cities for pedestrians.”


Liberty Mutual Insurance commissioned ORC International to conduct a research study employing qualitative and quantitative methodologies to measure pedestrian safety in 25 cities. The study was initiated with analyzing data from both published research and quantitative research and then combining these to create a pedestrian safety index for each city.

The variables in this research were indexed to the average across all cities to compensate for the variables being on different scales. Some variables were transformed to indicate incidences per 1,000 people to remove bias due to population size. Factor analysis was used to determine which variables most strongly relate to an overall dimension of pedestrian safety. The results from factor analysis were used to weight each variable. The Index scores were created by taking a weighted average across all included variables. Higher index scores indicate higher levels of pedestrian safety and finally, the cities were rank ordered on safety. The total sample size for the quantitative research was 2,500 across cities.