Across the country, the number of people struck and killed while walking by drivers rose dramatically over the past decade, increasing by “an astonishing 45 percent” from 2010 through 2019, even though deaths in traffic crashes of drivers and passengers has barely grown.
In 2019, 6,237 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes, an average of more than 17 a day.
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford in Florida, and Bakersfield in California topped the list of most dangerous metropolitan areas; Florida, followed by Alabama, took the lead for the most deadly state.
Those are the main findings of “Dangerous by Design 2021,” a new report that ranks the deadliest metro areas and states for walkers, released earlier this month by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.
“Our current approach to safety should be judged on the merits; and by any measure, it has been a complete failure,” Beth Osborne, transportation director for Smart Growth America, said in a statement. “We urgently need to change the way we design and build roads to prioritize safety, not speed as we currently do.”
Streets have been designed to move vehicles as fast as possible, the report noted, which makes walking much more dangerous than it needs to be.
“This is why crosswalks are missing or too far apart, why lanes are too wide, why intersections are difficult to cross on foot, and why money can always be found to widen a road, even when adding sidewalks is deemed ‘too expensive,” Osborne added. In addition, some streets are designed with wide turning lanes that allow cars to make right turns through crosswalks at high speeds.
In a video testimonial released in conjunction with the report, Latanya Byrd, of Philadelphia, spoke about how her niece and three of her niece’s four children were killed during the “deadly decade” on dangerous neighborhood streets. When streets are built wide, fast, and with few safe places to cross, she said, ”it is no surprise that drivers are going to speed and people are going to die.”
The report’s Pedestrian Danger Index ranks the 100 most populous metropolitan areas. The top 20 most dangerous are:
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
- Bakersfield, CA
- Memphis, TN-MS-AR
- Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL
- Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL
- North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
- Jackson, MS
- Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
- Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL
- Jacksonville, FL
- Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL
- Albuquerque, NM
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
- Greenville-Anderson, SC
- Stockton-Lodi, CA
- Baton Rouge, LA
- Birmingham-Hoover, AL
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA
- El Paso, TX
The twenty states with the highest Pedestrian Danger Index ratings, from highest to lowest, are: Florida, Alabama, New Mexico, Mississippi, Delaware, Louisiana, Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, California, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan and Kentucky.
The report also found that a number of demographic factors contribute to the “preventable crisis.”
For certain groups, the crash risk is particularly high. For example, people of color, older adults, and people walking in low-income neighborhoods die at higher rates when compared to the general American population, and more dangerous roads are located near communities of color.
From 2010-2019, Black people were hit and killed by drivers at a 82% higher rate than white, non-Hispanic Americans. And the fatality rate for people walking in the lowest income neighborhoods was nearly twice that of middle income areas, and almost three times that of neighborhoods at higher levels of income, according to the study, which referred to research by the University of Nevada that found that drivers are significantly more likely to yield to a white pedestrian in a crosswalk than to a Black pedestrian.
“Dangerous by Design 202” focused on pedestrian deaths during the last decade, but the troubling trend may continue, the safety group said, referring to a recent National Safety Council analysis that estimated the lost lives in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic represented a 24% spike in the road crash death rate from 2019, the biggest increase in nearly a century.
The study calls on local, state, and federal policymakers to take action by making pedestrian safety an urgent priority, and asks the public to urge their respective congressional representatives to sponsor the Complete Streets Act of 2021.
Smart Growth America identified a series of actions that can save lives and have the potential to “have a major impact on whether this public health epidemic is addressed or allowed to continue unabated.” On March 25, the safety group will host a public briefing online to discuss the report’s findings.
To access an interactive map that allows users to put in any address in the United States to see where recent pedestrian deaths have occurred.