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U.Va. Study Reveals Outer Suburbs More Dangerous Than Cities

April 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.

From 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Potential 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.

They also examined homicides by strangers, because they are the murders most likely to be associated with going about one’s routine business out of the home, and they may be related to proximity to dangerous areas. FBI data indicate, however, that only 17

percent of homicides grew out of felony circumstances, such as robberies and drug law violations, in 1999.

Instead, 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.

Safety Viewed in Relation to Population Density

Looking 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.

Chicago 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 as dangerous.

Fifty-four 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.

Differences 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. Two

counties 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.

In 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.

In Pittsburgh, all five outer counties had higher rates than Pittsburgh.

In Dallas, four of eight counties had higher rates than the central city.

In Houston, four of six counties were higher than the central city.

Traffic Fatalities Found to be the Greatest Danger

Greater 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 by strangers.

In 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.

Pittsburgh 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.

Dallas 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.

Texas 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.

In 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.

Traffic 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 methods.

Contact: Jane Ford, (434) 924-4298

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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