The role of the built environment in explaining relationships between perceived and actual pedestrian and bicyclist safety

Accid Anal Prev. 2009 Jul;41(4):692-702. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2009.03.008. Epub 2009 Apr 18.


While the conventional approach to safety planning has emphasized crash analysis with police-reported crash information, transportation professionals increasingly recognize the importance of proactively identifying potential crash risk and considering environmental characteristics. In a proactive approach, individuals' perception of crash risk provides important information in identifying potential crash risk. As built environment characteristics influence the levels of pedestrian and bicycle safety, this study examined how perceived and actual crash risk are related with each other and with respect to built environmental characteristics. Our results showed that residents who live in low density-single residential neighborhoods are more likely to perceive their neighborhood as dangerous relative to residents of compact, mixed-use neighborhoods even though the latter exhibited higher actual crash rates. The results of path analyses confirmed that a simultaneous but opposite relationship exists between perceived and actual crash risks. Our results indicate that higher actual crash risk increases perceived crash risk, while higher perceived crash risk is negatively associated to actual crash rates. Consequently, low density and non-mixed land uses increase individuals perception of crash risk, and increased perception of risk and unfriendly environment for pedestrian and bikers reduces actual crash rates as a result of behavioral changes. From a policy standpoint, more attention and proactive interventions are desirable in suburban areas beyond the areas with high crash rates, as some of these areas have high-perceived risks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bicycling*
  • District of Columbia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety*
  • Social Perception*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Walking*
  • Young Adult