Unlike bicycling, the best walking practices are not supported by evidence.

I wish there were a Traffic Safety class for pedestrians. Walking is the most dangerous form of transportation. Most ped safety measures center around infrastructure: sidewalks, walk lights, crosswalks. Recommended walking practices are to use sidewalks when available, walk against traffic when sidewalks aren’t available, and cross at crosswalks.

I’m having trouble finding data to support these measures as improving pedestrian safety. The risk factors for pedestrian injury and fatality are age (children and senior citizens), time of day (afternoon & evening for children, night for everyone else), and intoxication. (Just like driving and bicycling, drinking and texting impair walking!) The speed of the vehicle correlates with severity of injuries, but perhaps not with the risk of collision.

You can’t do anything about your age and I’m going to focus on adult pedestrians. Night suggests visibility so use lights and bright, reflective clothing at night. And don’t drink or text while walking—or driving, or biking.

There are good reasons to doubt the standard recommendations, which are the same for joggers and walkers.

Sidewalks: Bicyclists should not ride on sidewalks because of the risk of pull-out or back-out collisions with motorists leaving their homes. It’s not a stretch to imagine a pedestrian facing the same sort of collision. At the very least, a pedestrian should watch for vehicles potentially backing out of a driveway. Last week I was jogging on the sidewalk and I saw the reverse lights of a car in a driveway. I slowed down until I saw the driver wave me to go ahead. A jogger or a distracted walker plus a careless driver backing out could easily be a collision.

If it’s not safe to walk on sidewalks, what is the point of them? This is the problem, there’s just not enough data. Now we know that sidewalks encourage walking. Communities with more walking have less heart disease, diabetes, etc. The risk of disease associated with sedentary lifestyle far outweighs the dangers of walking, especially for a sober, non-distracted, highly visible pedestrian. So I’m all for sidewalks even if it turns out that they actually put pedestrians at risk, because they make pedestrians feel safer and encourage walking.

By promoting and encouraging walking, sidewalks may decrease pedestrian risk through the theory of critical mass. Critical mass holds true for both bicyclists and pedestrians: as more people walk or bike, the absolute number of injuries and fatalities does not change. Therefore, the rate of injuries and fatalities decreases. One theory is that motorists get used to seeing bicyclists and walkers. Personally, I suspect that the people who are getting hit are those who are intoxicated and walking or biking at night, and sober daytime walkers and bicyclists rarely get hit. Increasing the number of sober daytime walkers doesn’t really make intoxicated nighttime walkers safer.