The data and mapping initiative, which spans 13 years of traffic data in Providence, noted that the number amounts to 2% of Providence’s total population. They also found that 2022 was the deadliest year for pedestrians since 2016, with four deaths, and that 88% of crashes resulted in injuries, including a small number of fatalities.
The Providence Department of Planning and Development directed the PSC to the Police Department and the Access to Public Records Act process to obtain crash data, Michaela Antunes, Providence’s director of communications for economic development, wrote in an email to The Herald.
PSC Lead Organizer Liza Burkin said the project was entirely driven by volunteer efforts and took about six months to complete. The PSC plans to update their map annually as new data becomes available — while using the data to push the city to make its streets more pedestrian-friendly.
Burkin is familiar with traffic crashes in Providence. Her partner, who rides his bike for work, was hit by a car on North Main Street while completing a delivery. Burkin said he didn’t file a police report because he didn’t have the time to go through the legal process.
She says this is one of the primary challenges the PSC faced throughout the initiative. The accuracy and precision of the data were imperfect, in part because not every person who gets into a crash reports the incident to law enforcement.
Burkin added that the data is “collected by the police … and traffic crashes can be very violent, very adrenaline-raising events.” First responders may not prioritize collecting perfect information in the heat of the moment, she said.
Despite the high crash rate in Providence, Burkin said she doesn’t think the figure is any lower in other areas, although she didn’t have specific crash data for other municipalities or states.
Ilana Nguyen ’26, who frequently runs in Providence, said she feels safe running in College Hill or on the East Bay Bike Path, where car traffic is minimal. Even when she runs downtown, where there is significantly more traffic, she said she’s never felt unsafe.
Nonetheless, she says that as a pedestrian walking in Providence, several cars have sped up to pass her as she’s about to cross the street. She said that Providence’s smaller population may make drivers less cognizant of pedestrians compared to a city like New York, where drivers expect pedestrians to be at every turn.
Nguyen also noted that Brown students in particular are notorious for jaywalking, which could contribute to pedestrian accidents.
“Providence has fewer crashes than many cities do, though improvements to safety are always our top priority,” Antunes wrote.
“We are not aware of the methodology used or any data that supports the 2% figure” posed by PSC, she added.
Burkin believes that the crash data is reflective of larger trends in American cities, which she said “tend to design roads that are for the fast passage of cars over the safe passage of people.” She added that the growing size of vehicles in recent years may make it more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians.
Burkin is hopeful that the data will lead to changes in the way streets are designed and engineered in Providence. While the city cannot control the types of cars people buy, she said, they can alter roads in ways that slow down drivers and make crashes less likely.
“We really like to see this through the lens of harm reduction,” Burkin said. “We’re not accepting that there’s nothing we can do and that an accident is an accident.”
One harm-reduction measure the PSC advocating for is daylighting, a traffic safety strategy that removes parking spaces near intersections to increase visibility for drivers and pedestrians alike.
Burkin also hopes the city will change traffic signals to allow longer crossing times for pedestrians, as well as implement “exclusive phasing” traffic signals. In exclusive phasing, only pedestrians or cars move — the two groups never move at the same time.
The city is currently evaluating several of these measures, including increased pedestrian crossing time and improved sightlines for drivers, Antunes wrote.
The PSC is also aiming to convince the city of Providence to join Vision Zero Network, a nonprofit project that aims to completely eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries. More than 45 communities across the U.S. have joined the network, and results are already evident: Hoboken, New Jersey has not had a single traffic fatality since 2017.
Even with these desired changes in mind, Burkin emphasized that Providence has already done substantial work to improve street safety. She cited the Great Streets Initiative, which aims to increase the safety and navigability of Providence roads.
Part of the initiative includes a wide-spanning plan to improve 70 miles of road, including the creation of an “urban trail” network of pathways that make it easier for bikers, skateboarders and pedestrians to travel separately from vehicular traffic. Burkin said the PSC has been a strong supporter of the Great Streets plan since its inception, and hopes to see the city continue to expand the urban trail network’s reach.
Antunes wrote that the Department of Planning and Development currently “advocates for street designs that are proven to reduce crash risk, including through staffing the Green and Complete Streets Advisory Council, and managing projects through the Great Streets Initiative.”
She added that “the Department of Public Works also plays an integral role in street safety, and Planning works with DPW to implement speed reduction improvements throughout the city.”
According to Antunes, most of the city’s street safety improvements are based on a list of measures from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration that provides transportation agencies with recommendations for strategies that can reduce road fatalities and severe injuries. These strategies are widely employed throughout the country and include measures like speed safety cameras and bicycle lanes.
While Burkin expressed gratitude to Providence for sharing their crash data, she said the PSC hoped to create a statewide traffic incident map, but was unable to do so because “the state of Rhode Island refuses to share data.”
“There’s no reason to hide this kind of information from the public when all we’re trying to do is shine a light on where the problem spots are and try(ing) to prevent more injuries and fatalities,” Burkin said.
Charles St. Martin, chief public affairs officer of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, wrote in an email to The Herald that “at this time RIDOT will continue to maintain its longstanding policy to follow federal law of not releasing crash data, but using it for its intended purpose to have RIDOT and our consultants propose improvements that make roads safer.”
Yael is a senior staff writer covering city and state politics. She is junior, and hails from the Bay Area.