Ex-Urban Sprawl as a Factor in Traffic Fatalities and EMS Response Times in the Southeastern United States

Article excerpt

Many different writers (Atkinson and Oleson 1996; Barnett 1995; Burchell and Lisotkin 1995; Burchell et al., 1998; Carruthers and Ulfarsson 2002; Ciscel 2001; Ewing 1997; and Glaeser and Kahn 2003) have examined the direct and indirect costs of unplanned growth or sprawl. However, an area only recently examined is the impact of sprawl on traffic fatalities (Ewing, Schieber and Zegeer, 2003; Lucy 2003; and Lucy 2000). Besides a case study of the Chicago area, which found emergency medical services (EMS) delays due to sprawl (American Farmland Trust 1998), another issue not examined on a larger scale is the degree to which sprawl might be contributing to delays in EMS. In this research note, we develop models similar to the ones used by Reid Ewing, Richard Schieber and Charles Zegeer (2003), Stefan Felder and Henrik Brinkmann (2002) and Theodore Keeler (1994) in order to assess the impact that the built environment has on EMS response times and the rate of traffic fatalities in the southeastern United States.

Reid Ewing (1997) reviews 17 studies concerning sprawl and identifies four characteristics defining it: low-density, strip development, scattered development, and leapfrog development. Peter Gordon and Harry Richardson (1997), in their criticism of planners who promote "compact cities," suggest that sprawl is low density, dispersed, decentralized, polycentric (many centers), and suburban. The universal mobility of the auto has allowed job and home to be miles apart. Americans are driving more every year in large part because of the increasingly spread out nature of our metro areas (U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT), National Transportation Statistics 1999). The 2001 National Household Travel Survey reports that although Americans were making fewer trips by motor vehicle, average time per trip had gone up including the commute to work (U.S. Department of Transportation 2004). Edward Glaeser and Matthew Kahn (2003) contend that sprawl is a result of a society that has centered itself on the automobile.

As development continues outward, jobs, housing and services grow farther apart. In the past few decades, development patterns that require an automobile trip for every errand force many to drive more every year to accomplish the same things. The long journey to work or for shopping is now accepted as commonplace. Due to families having the luxury of several automobiles, many of these trips (over 81%) are one-person occupied (U.S. DOT 1999). Ewing, Schieber, and Zegeer (2003) and Keeler (1994) show that higher population density is associated with lower traffic fatalities on a per capita basis. Ewing, Schieber and Zegeer create a "sprawl index" demonstrating that more sprawled metro counties (i.e., those having low general population density, large/long block sizes, and census tracts with population densities below 2,500) have higher traffic fatality rates than their less sprawled counterparts. Also, the more sprawled an area becomes the more difficult for police, fire and EMS to reach many new households and new developments, even those along existing roadways. The alternative is to build new facilities closer to the new developments, which raises the costs of public service provision.


As a measurement of the consequences of sprawl, William Lucy (2003) constructs an index measuring the likelihood of someone becoming a traffic or homicide fatality statistic in different parts of a metro area. He finds higher traffic fatality and homicide rates in ex-urban areas than those in central cities or the inner suburbs of fifteen metro areas. (1) Similarly, Reid Ewing, Rolf Pendall, and Don Chen (2002) find that traffic fatalities are much higher in what they have ranked as the top ten most sprawling metro areas versus the ten least sprawling metro areas in the United States: fifteen average annual traffic deaths versus nine average annual traffic deaths per 100,000 residents.

For this paper, we first looked at fatal traffic crashes and then average EMS run times (from time of notification to arrival of an EMS unit) to an accident site for the year 2002 in the metro areas of eight states that make up the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 4: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. …