Pedestrian traffic-safety measures have been “a total failure” according to an advocacy group’s new report that found U.S. pedestrian fatalities jumped 45% over the last decade as planners prioritized vehicle speed and traffic flow over the lives of those on foot.
The report, “Dangerous by Design 2021,” compiled by the urban planning nonprofit Smart Growth America, found that from 2010 to 2019, nearly every state in the U.S. grew more dangerous for pedestrians than the year prior, even though overall traffic fatalities trended downward. It also found alarming disparities in deaths based on the victims’ location, age and race.
“Our current approach to addressing the rising number of people struck and killed while walking has been a total failure,” says the report, released on Wednesday. It urges transportation planners to place greater priority on the safety of people not behind the wheel.
Black people were found to have been struck and killed by drivers at an 82% higher rate than white non-Hispanic people during the years 2010 to 2019. The fatality rate in the lowest-income neighborhoods was nearly twice that of middle-income neighborhoods.
“Low-income communities are significantly less likely to have sidewalks, marked crosswalks, and street design to support safer, slower speeds,” the report states. “It is likely that many of the people walking in these lower-income census tracts are also lower-income themselves.” People in lower-income communities are less likely to have cars, the report adds.
“We urgently need to change the way we design and build roads to prioritize safety, not speed, as we currently do,” Beth Osborne, transportation director for Smart Growth America, said in a statement. “The obsession with keeping traffic moving and avoiding delay at all costs in hopes of saving drivers mere seconds creates the very dangers highlighted in this report.”
Florida was by far the most deadly state for pedestrians, according to the report, and seven of the nation’s 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas were in the Sunshine State.
Florida’s Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area ranked first in a calculation that considered deaths, population and the number of people who walk to work. The Orlando area has topped the planning group’s most-dangerous chart in three of four previous editions of the report that stretch back to 2009.
Like Florida, the nine other states in the Top 10 are along the southern continental U.S. Alabama and New Mexico are second and third.
Of the 20 most dangerous metro areas, 17 were in Southern states. Florida’s Orlando area was followed by Bakersfield, California. Memphis, Tennessee shared third place with Florida’s Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area.
“Eighty-four of the 100 largest metropolitan areas grew more dangerous for people walking since the previous edition of Dangerous by Design,” the report states.
Florida Transportation Secretary Kevin J. Thibault dismissed the report in a statement to HuffPost, saying its analysis of select data points “results in an inaccurate portrayal.”
“The report compares states and metropolitan areas across the nation, but does not take into account important geographic and demographic nuances, resulting in a one size fits all methodology for the assessment,” Thibault said.
Thibault said Florida’s pedestrian and bicycle safety program has received high praise from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The report offers recommended changes in road designs, speed limits and pedestrian crosswalks as ways to reduce deaths. These include narrowing traffic lanes, which has been found to decrease speed, and eliminating high-speed wide turns for sharp-angle turns instead.
Lower vehicle speed dramatically reduces the chance of a pedestrian dying if hit by a car. A pedestrian struck by a 40 mph vehicle has an 85% chance of dying, compared with a 45% chance at 30 mph and 5% at 20 mph, according to National Traffic Safety Board data cited in the report.