U.Va. Study Reveals
Outer Suburbs More Dangerous Than Cities
30, 2002-- Leaving home to
go to work and other activities is more dangerous for residents
of outer suburban areas than for many central city residents and
for nearly all inner suburban residents, concludes a recent University
of Virginia study.
Baltimore to Minneapolis to Houston, some sparsely settled outer
suburban counties are the most dangerous parts of their metropolitan
areas, according to a study by William H. Lucy, professor of urban
and environmental planning at U.Va., and graduate research assistant
Raphael Rabalais. Their findings are contrary to the conventional
wisdom that cities are dangerous and outer suburbs are safe.
metropolitan areas examined in the study are: Baltimore, Chicago,
Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia,
and Pittsburgh for the years 1997-2000, depending on data availability.
study analyzed traffic fatalities and homicides by strangers to
test the common belief that outer suburban areas with low-density
housing and quasi-rural settings are safer places to live and raise
children than cities and inner suburbs.
dangers in any residential location arise from leaving home to travel
to work, shop, attend school, attend church, visit friends, or go
to civic functions and family gatherings. Tabulating traffic fatalities
is the best method of measuring these dangers, the researchers concluded.
also examined homicides by strangers, because they are the murders
most likely to be associated with going about ones routine
business out of the home, and they may be related to proximity to
dangerous areas. FBI data indicate, however, that only 17
of homicides grew out of felony circumstances, such as robberies
and drug law violations, in 1999.
most homicides are committed by people who know each other. Some
of these homicides, such as among family members, may occur inside
the home, but they are not associated with intruders. Some homicides
occur at work between co-workers. Some occur at friends and
acquaintances residences, or between friends or acquaintances
at places of entertainment. The rates of homicides by strangers
were obtained from state police sources or, if these were not available,
a national FBI estimate for the rate of homicides by strangers.
Viewed in Relation to Population Density
at the 60 metropolitan counties and nine central cities represented
in the study and ranking them from the highest to lowest combined
traffic fatality and stranger homicide rates, the 15 most dangerous
areas had population densities between 0.1 and 0.4 persons per acre.
Dallas was next, the 16th most dangerous jurisdiction
and the most dangerous central city.
was the densest city at 19.9 persons per acre. But 23 counties and
three central cities -- Dallas, Baltimore and Houston
--were more dangerous than Chicago, and three counties were
of 60 counties were more dangerous than Minneapolis or St.
Paul. Pittsburgh and Milwaukee were the next safest
cities; 46 counties were more dangerous than they were. Seventeen
counties were more dangerous than Baltimore, which was the
jurisdiction with the highest rate of homicides by strangers.
in danger between inner and outer parts of metropolitan areas were
greatest in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Eight counties
on the fringe of this metropolitan area had higher combined traffic
fatality and stranger homicide rates than Minneapolis and St. Paul.
had the same rate as Minneapolis and only two counties had slightly
lower rates than St. Paul. Both safer counties, Hennepin and Ramsey,
bordered the central cities.
each metropolitan area, the safest counties bordered the central
city -- Baltimore County, Dallas County, Milwaukee County, DuPage
next to the City of Chicago and Cook County, Fort Bend outside Houston,
Hennepin and Ramsey adjacent to Minneapolis and St. Paul, Delaware
and Montgomery west and north of Philadelphia, and Allegheny around
Pittsburgh, all five outer counties had higher rates than
Dallas, four of eight counties had higher rates than the
Houston, four of six counties were higher than the central
Fatalities Found to be the Greatest Danger
danger in fringe locations in metropolitan areas was caused mainly
by the large number of traffic fatalities compared with homicides,
and the greater difference between traffic fatalities and homicides
the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, for example,
an average of 237 traffic fatalities occurred annually from 1997
through 2000. Of those, only 36 occurred inside the central cities
and 201 occurred outside. This compared with 98 homicides annually,
of which 74 were in Minneapolis or St. Paul. But an average of only
13.5 homicides by strangers occurred in Minnesota.
and Milwaukee were the next safest cities. The Pittsburgh
area averaged 243 traffic fatalities per year, of which only 24
were in Pittsburgh itself. The metropolitan area had 88 homicides
per year, with an annual homicide by stranger average of only 16.2.
In the Milwaukee area, there were 100 traffic fatalities and 125
homicides, but the homicide by stranger average was only 26.7.
was the most dangerous central city, mainly because it averaged
169 traffic fatalities annually, a rate of 1.4 fatalities per 10,000
residents. Houston had the next highest traffic fatality
rate among cities with an average of 1.2 per 10,000 residents. Chicago
was next with 0.9 traffic fatalities per 10,000. Although Baltimore
had the highest homicide by stranger rate -- 1.0 such murders per
10,000 residents -- it was less dangerous than many counties because
its traffic fatality rate was only 0.7 per 10,000.
counties had the highest traffic fatality rates -- 4.4 per 10,000
residents in Kaufman County outside Dallas and 4.2 in Chambers County
outside Houston. The six counties (five in Texas and one in Illinois)
with the highest traffic fatality rates had population densities
of only 0.1 persons per acre.
1999 in the United States, there were 41,717 traffic fatalities
and 13,011 homicides, a ratio of 3.2 to 1. That converts to 114
traffic fatalities per day compared with only 36 homicides. Previous
research has indicated that many traffic fatalities occur on two-lane
roads in exurban and rural areas. In 1997, 28,653 out of 37,280
fatal crashes occurred on two-lane roads. Only 11 percent of traffic
fatalities in rural areas occurred on interstate highways in 1997.
Many traffic fatalities also occur in one-vehicle accidents, and
usually are attributed to driver errors. In some states, such as
Michigan and Ohio, about 50 percent of traffic fatalities have been
in one-vehicle crashes. In Virginia, about 30 percent of traffic
fatalities have been in one-vehicle accidents.
fatality and homicide by stranger results are described in the accompanying
tables and maps for the eight metropolitan areas. Source notes for
each metropolitan area describe the research sources and some analytic
Jane Ford, (434) 924-4298