Walking on America’s streets may be hazardous to your health, especially if you’re a senior or minority living in the Sun Belt.
Southern cities that grew and sprawled after World War II in the heyday of the automobile are the most dangerous places for pedestrians, according to a report (PDF) out today.
In the decade from 2003 through 2012, 47,025 people died while walking along roads — 16 times the number of Americans killed in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Another 676,000 pedestrians were injured.
“That’s one person struck by a truck or car once every eight minutes,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America, which conducted the study. “A lot of Southern infrastructure came about during the automobile era … The mindset during that period of time was moving cars, fast. That’s what we got.”
African-Americans and Hispanics have a much higher rate of pedestrian deaths than non-Hispanic whites: 60 percent higher for blacks and 43 percent higher for Hispanics, according to the study.
Hispanic pedestrians in South Carolina were 189 percent more likely than whites to be killed. In Michigan blacks are 134 percent more likely to die while walking than whites.
From 2010 to 2012, pedestrian fatalities overall rose compared with other traffic deaths. Almost 15 percent of all traffic deaths in 2012 were people on foot, compared with 12.3 percent for 2003 through 2012.
The four most dangerous places to walk are in Florida: Orlando, Tampa, Clearwater and Jacksonville. And the five most dangerous states are all in the South: Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia.
“Most of our large cities grew up after World War II, when there was more focus on moving people with cars,” said Billy Hattaway, a district secretary in the Florida Department of Transportation.
Seniors’ risk increasing
The report, “Dangerous by Design 2014,” uses a pedestrian danger index to measure the likelihood of a pedestrian’s being hit by a vehicle and killed. It’s based on the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent five years of data on pedestrian fatalities.
One in five pedestrian accidents kills older Americans, a group that has the greatest pedestrian fatality rate. It’s a problem that could get worse, said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president for social impact at AARP.
By 2050, 20 states will have more seniors than school-age children, she said.
“Eight million people no longer drive,” LeaMond said. “Too many seniors cannot safely walk … You should not need the speed of a major league baseball player to cross our streets.”
Vehicle speed is a major factor. About 61 percent of pedestrian deaths were on roads with speed limits of 40 mph or higher, while 9 percent were on roads with speed limits below 30 mph.
“In recent years, there is recognition that streets must be designed for more than cars,” Millar said.
Some of the ways to accommodate cars and people include extending sidewalks, redesigning intersections (no left turn on red, traffic roundabouts to slow speed, reducing the number of lanes), adding bike lanes and reducing the distance between pedestrian crosswalks.
Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) gives an indication of the likelihood of a person on foot being hit by a vehicle and killed. The PDI is based on the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent five years of data on pedestrian fatalities. From 2003-2012, the national PDI was 52.2.Source: Smart Growth America
Calling on Congress
Advocates of safer streets for pedestrians are calling on Congress to adopt the Safe Streets Act, which would require all federally funded road projects to consider walkers and bikers and not just drivers. As Congress begins to debate a transportation bill, the pressure will grow to make pedestrian safety a priority for federal aid.
“This is a surface transportation bill for the country,” Millar said. “It’s not an automobile bill … Over 30 percent of Americans don’t drive, and disenfranchising them doesn’t make sense.”
From 2003 to 2012, almost 68 percent of all pedestrian deaths were on roads funded in part by federal money and designed under federal guidelines, he said.
Florida, which consistently ranks the worst on the pedestrian safety index and has a huge elderly population, has set up task forces, beefed up enforcement and launched education programs to reduce fatalities.
“We’re looking at increasing lighting at intersections,” Hattaway said. “The challenge of reducing speeds on multilane roads is going to be a difficult one.”
From 2003 to 2012, there were, on average each year, 1.56 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people nationwide. From 2008 through 2012, The rate for the Orlando-Kissimmee area was 2.75, with a relatively small percentage of people commuting on foot, placing it highest on the pedestrian danger index with a score of 244.28, four times the nation’s. Also among the 10 most dangerous places for pedestrians were Birmingham, Alabama; Houston; Atlanta; Phoenix; and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Metropolitan areas where a lot of people walk are relatively safer.
The safest metro areas for walkers, according to the index, were Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, New York and San Francisco, although New York and San Francisco have many pedestrian deaths because of the sheer number of residents who walk.
The most pedestrian-friendly states are Vermont, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota, as well as the District of Columbia.