The number of fatal pedestrian accidents — those where someone walking is struck by a vehicle and killed — is rising. They are up 35 percent since 2008. And, unfortunately, Arizona is the ninth most dangerous state for pedestrian fatalities.
There may be multiple factors at work, but some transportation safety advocates argue that road design is a major one. Two groups, Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition, have just issued an annual report in which they argue that roadway design emphasizing traffic speed over walkability may be the most consistent factor across the 20 most dangerous states.
A map of those 20 most dangerous states for pedestrians is striking. Seventeen of them lie in a band across the southern United States from California to North Carolina. Only Maryland, Delaware and Michigan lie outside that band. Moreover, nine of the top 10 lie in a continuous band from Arizona to Florida, with only Delaware as an outlier. This band of Sun Belt states is home to some of the nation’s most sprawling metro areas.
Arizona did better on another measure. No city in Arizona was among the top 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas. Interestingly, eight of those 10 metro areas were in Florida, with the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan statistical area at the top.
Sprawl may contribute to the problem of pedestrian-unfriendly roadways
Urban sprawl seems to inspire city planners to develop wide arterial roads that encourage driving but leave little room for walking. Multi-lane avenues set for high speeds are often created instead of narrower, slower streets and walkable neighborhood. According to the recent report, these practices are “consistently linked … to higher rates of both traffic-related deaths for people walking and traffic-related deaths overall.”
“Complete Streets” initiatives, which design roadways specifically to protect cyclists and pedestrians, have been adopted in Orlando, America’s most pedestrian unfriendly city. These include building out wider sidewalks, providing sidewalks along every roadway, creating bike lanes and improving the safety of bike and pedestrian crossings. However, Orlando’s director of transportation admits it will take years for them to become fully adopted.
Other factors that may increase pedestrian fatalities
Road design that doesn’t take pedestrians and bikers into account explains much of the problem, but not all, according to CityLab. The number of vehicle miles traveled has risen, especially as gas prices have fallen since the Great Recession. Ride-hailing apps have put more vehicles on the road, too.
Another factor is that Americans increasingly prefer big vehicles like Ford F-150s and Ram trucks. These are relatively affordable in a time of low gas prices, and lenders have increasingly offered subprime loans and longer loan periods to entice lower income buyers.
Ultimately, though, better road design may be the largest factor within our control. The problem of pedestrian safety comes down to city planners and lawmakers. Federal transportation funding rules or state law could require pedestrians and bicyclists to be accounted for in all new projects and retrofits.
“You can no longer just think of vulnerable users as an add-on,” says the director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
Many times, pedestrian accidents are caused by negligent, distracted, drunk or reckless drivers. They can be the result of dangerous road design, however. If you believe that the design of a roadway may have contributed to your accident or that of a loved one, have your case evaluated by an experienced personal injury attorney.