Pedestrian safety: Know the rules of the road
Walking may be hazardous to your health. In Florida, the risk of fatality on foot is significantly higher than in any other state.
Nine of the 20 deadliest U.S. cities for pedestrians are in Florida, with Orlando ranked as least safe and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolis ranked No. 14 in the 2019 “Dangerous By Design” report from Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.
Florida, which was built for speed, retained its distinction as the place where a person who is walking is most likely to be struck and killed by a driver.
Harrowing data showed that between 2008 and 2017 the number of annual pedestrian deaths in the U.S. increased by 35.7 percent. A total of 49,340 died in that 10-year period. That’s more than 13 people killed per day or one person every hour and 46 minutes.
“It’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people dying every single month,” the report says, noting that if 5,000 Americans per year died in plane crashes, air traffic would come to a halt until safety solutions were implemented. “Unlike traffic fatalities for motor vehicle occupants, which decreased 6.1 percent between 2008 and 2017, pedestrian deaths have been steadily increasing since 2009.”
In Florida, there were 5,433 pedestrian deaths in the 10-year span, which is an annual average of 2.73 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people, or a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) calculated in the report as 182.0. Compare that to the national figures of 1.55 average annual deaths per 100,000 and a 55.3 PDI. Compare the Sunshine State’s dreadful PDI to that of Texas (111.9), California (68.2), Ohio (39.6), New York (24.6) and the safest state, Vermont (13.8).
Orlando, at 656 deaths over the 10 years, recorded a scary PDI of 313.3, with No. 2 Daytona Beach at 265 and No. 3 Melbourne-Titusville at 245. No. 4 Sarasota-Bradenton’s PDI increased by 86.4 percent to 234.6 since the 2016 report, more than any other city.
In Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, 1,549 pedestrians were hit and killed during the period for a PDI of 153.5. Compare Miami’s PDI to that of Phoenix and Houston (both 130.0), Atlanta (127.9), Los Angeles (76.4), Washington, D.C. (39.7), Chicago (34.5), New York-Newark (27.1), Boston(19.6) and, safest of the 100 ranked most populous metro areas, Provo-Orem, Utah (17.3).
Compare to European cities like Stockholm, Berlin and Copenhagen, where crash and death rates are much lower.
“Why is this happening?” authors of the report asked. “We’re not walking more and we’re only driving slightly more than we were back in 2008. What is happening is that our streets, which we designed for the movement of vehicles, haven’t changed. In fact, we are continuing to design streets that are dangerous for all people.”
Federal and state transportation policies, blueprints and funding are stuck in the age of the automobile, when sprawling growth patterns — especially in the Sun Belt — led to wider roads, longer blocks and street engineering that prioritized high speeds for cars over safety for people on foot, on bikes or using mass transit, the report says.
Among the victims, death rates are disproportionately high for the elderly, minorities and people walking in poor communities, data showed. Older adults are more often struck at an intersection or in a crosswalk than younger victims. In San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, residents organized marches, flash mobs and 20-second performances in crosswalks to campaign for longer signal times for elderly and disabled people.
Another cause of skyrocketing fatality rates is the growing popularity of SUVs and pickup trucks, which are two to three times more likely to kill a pedestrian in a crash than a sedan, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.
What needs to change, as cities seek to reduce Americans’ dependency on cars? Smart Growth America, which advocates for more livable development, and the Complete Streets Coalition, which aims to transform the way roads are planned and built to accommodate all users, recommend nine actions in their report to save lives.
The key is designing safer streets with slower traffic, sensible intersections, sidewalks and bike lanes. The Federal Highway Administration eliminated outdated car-friendly regulations in 2016 and gave states and cities more flexibility to redesign streets using federal funds. Current street design results in artificially high speed limits, and the likelihood of surviving a collision decreases rapidly as speeds increase past 30 mph.
The report urges stronger federal, state and local commitment to intelligent planning and suggests that state departments of transportation, like FDOT, set targets to reduce injuries and fatalities and face penalties if they don’t meet them. In states such as Florida that are committed to Complete Streets policy, make sure updated training and innovative practices are in place.
Stop referring to pedestrian fatalities as unavoidable accidents, the report says, by “replacing the word ‘accident’ with ‘crash’ when referring to these preventable deaths.”