Pedes­trian deaths on the rise na­tion­ally

Maryland Independent - - News - By CHANGEZ ALI Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

COL­LEGE PARK — Walk­ing across the street is be­com­ing more dan­ger­ous.

Last year was the dead­li­est year for pedes­tri­ans in the United States since 1996, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Gov­er­nor’s High­way Safety As­so­ci­a­tion, which col­lects and an­a­lyzes data from state high­way safety of­fices.

Pre­lim­i­nary data show that 5,997 pedes­tri­ans were killed in traf­fic ac­ci­dents, an 11 per­cent in­crease from 2015, the re­port says.

The in­crease is part of a longer-term up­ward trend: Pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties in­creased 12 per­cent be­tween 2006 and 2015 from 4,795 to 5,376, even while the to­tal num­ber of traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties de­creased by 18 per­cent from 42,708 to 35,092 dur­ing that pe­riod. Pedes­tri­ans now ac­count for 15 per­cent of all traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties.

“Sur­viv­abil­ity is greatly im­proved in cars but the hu­man body has not changed, so hu­mans are as sus­cep­ti­ble as be­fore,” said as­so­ci­a­tion spokes­woman Kara Macek.

Driver and pedes­trian er­ror are a fac­tor in many ac­ci­dents. But re­cent re­search also blames a lack of en­gi­neer­ing for safe walk­ing en­vi­ron­ments — and two stud­ies pub­lished in the past year say that’s par­tic­u­larly true in low-in­come and im­mi­grant neigh­bor­hoods.

A 2016 white pa­per by the Pedes­trian and Bi­cy­cle In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter in Chapel Hill, N.C., found that low-in­come, mi­nor­ity and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties are “less likely to live near or travel along roads with safe, ac­ces­si­ble, and high-qual­ity pedes­trian and bi­cy­cle fa­cil­i­ties.”

“We pri­or­i­tize the mo­bil­ity and speed of mo­tor ve­hi­cles over safety,” said Krista Nord­back, se­nior re­searcher at the cen­ter, which is funded by the Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Those find­ings were echoed in “Dan­ger­ous by De­sign” a re­port re­leased in Jan­uary by Smart Growth Amer­ica, a Wash­ing­ton-based non­profit that works with com­mu­ni­ties to de­sign safer and more hab­it­able ur­ban liv­ing spa­ces.

“Streets with­out side­walks or pedes­trian cross­ings, with wide lanes that en­cour­age peo­ple to drive fast are sim­ply de­signed to be dan­ger­ous for peo­ple walk­ing,” the re­port said. “This is not user er­ror. Rather, it is a sign that th­ese streets are fail­ing to ad­e­quately meet the needs of ev­ery­one in a community.”

Smart Growth found that mi­nori­ties had a much higher rate of pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties than whites. The rate was 50 per­cent higher for His­pan­ics. For African-Amer­i­cans, the rate was nearly double that of whites.

Low-in­come ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties over­all were more dan­ger­ous to pedes­tri­ans than af­flu­ent ones, the re­port said.

Doug He­cox, spokesman for the Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said some of the prob­lems are tied to ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

“There are a num­ber of th­ese ur­ban boule­vards that were de­signed in the ‘50s and things were dif­fer­ent then. Ev­ery­one was in a car,” said He­cox. “Over the last 30 years there has been a change in that, with more peo­ple walk­ing and run­ning.”

But safety im­prove­ments are costly, he said. “There are a num­ber of states that are do­ing well just to fill pot­holes. And that’s what Congress and the pres­i­dent are de­bat­ing right now, a tril­lion-dol­lar in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram, but who’s going to pay for it?”

Dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties wind up pay­ing the price, said Alex Dodds, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor at Smart Growth Amer­ica, a non­profit ur­ban plan­ning or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Bud­gets are tight at nearly ev­ery depart­ment of trans­porta­tion, and there are usu­ally far more projects than time or money al­low,” she said. “So DOT staff have to make tough choices about what to pri­or­i­tize, and it’s not sur­pris­ing that com­mu­ni­ties with­out po­lit­i­cal clout don’t rise to the top of the list.”

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