South Florida is the nation’s fourth-most-dangerous metropolitan area for pedestrians, according to a report issued Tuesday, with people on foot being run down by motor vehicles at almost triple the average rate for the rest of America.
And around the rest of the state, the numbers look even more dismal, according to the report. The three U.S. cities with worse records than the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach axis: Jacksonville, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Orlando, in ascending order of infamy.
State officials were not inclined to argue with the grim portrayal of Florida’s pedestrian safety, or lack of it. “They have some very valid points,” conceded Billy Hattaway, point man for the Florida Department of Transportation’s efforts to make streets safer for foot traffic. “We have some real problems.”
The report, Dangerous by Design 2014, was issued by a pair of urban-redesign activist groups, the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America. It gives the United States in general low marks for pedestrian safety.
More than 47,000 pedestrians died in traffic accidents from 2003 to 2012, the report notes, “sixteen times the number of Americans who died in natural diasters — earthquakes, flood, hurricanes and tornadoes” during the same period.
Using a measure it calls the Pedestrian Danger Index — a computation of the likelihood of someone on foot being killed by a passing vehicle, using data on traffic fatalities and the number of people who walk to work — the report placed South Florida at nearly the bottom of the barrel.
The national average for the Pedestrian Danger Index is 52.2. South Florida’s score was 145.33. The raw numbers on which the index was based didn’t look much better. The only places that recorded a higher number than South Florida’s 1,539 pedestrian fatalities over the past decade were the much-larger New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas.
The state’s poor performance is partly rooted in its concentration of elderly residents — Florida has a higher percentage of residents over the age of 65 than any other state — and its explosive post-World War II growth, which occurred just as America was falling in love with the automobile.
“That was when the infrastructure was focused on spreading out and moving fast,” said David Goldberg, one of Dangerous by Design’s authors. “It used to be that you had homes near city centers and that sort of thing. But after the war, Florida was particularly aggressive about building suburbs and wide roadways to get to them. You have lots of extra [road] capacity there, at high speeds.”
The elderly, meanwhile, are more likely to travel on foot as age saps their driving skills. “They’re less able to react quickly, and if they are struck, they often have more serious injuries from a collision,” said Laura Cantwell, associate Florida director of AARP, which helped fund the report.
Florida is already implementing some of those measures after showing poorly in the 2011 edition of Dangerous by Design. “We have done a significant amount of work,” said the FDOT’s Hattaway. “But this is not a quick, silver-bullet solution. It’s going to take time.”
FDOT engineers have already used accident reports to identify “hot spots,” and are working on specific solutions for each one, he said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of problem,” Hattaway said. Speed limits can be reduced, right turns prohibited, and traffic circles can slow the flow of vehicles.
Even the relatively radical measure of narrowing four-lane roads to two can be employed in some places without congesting traffic, he said.
“It certainly helps — the less lanes you have, the less conflict points you have,” Hattaway said. “Can we do that on every four-lane corridor? Absolutely not. We have areas where demand is just absolutely too high. It’s one of the tools in our toolbox, but it cannot be applied absolutely.”