The status quo in American road design is claiming more and more lives, according to some transportation safety advocates. The 2019 edition of Dangerous by Design, a recurring report by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition, finds that the number of people struck and killed while walking has grown a startling 35 percent since 2008.
There are multiple factors behind this, but the report emphasizes one in particular: overly wide arterials that give too much space to cars and too little to humans. High-speed, multi-lane avenues that underpin sprawling urban growth, as opposed to slower, narrower streets that support walkable neighborhoods, are “consistently linked ... to higher rates of both traffic-related deaths for people walking and traffic-related deaths overall,” it states.
The geography of greatest danger gives some weight to that conclusion. The Sun Belt states of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and others are home to some of the country’s most spread-out metro areas. And they are among the states with the highest “pedestrian death index,” which measures how deadly it is for people to walk there. The report calculates this metric based on fatality numbers, controlling for population and how many people walk to work, for the years between 2008 and 2017.
By those counts, Florida is by far the most perilous place to walk in America, with a significantly higher state-wide PDI than Alabama, the second-highest state. Eight of the top 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas landed in the Sunshine State. “It sticks out like a sore thumb,” Emiko Atherton, the executive director of Smart Growth Coalition, said on a Tuesday conference call. Atherton emphasized Florida’s automobile-oriented development history, combined with its many population centers, as a primary cause for its unusually lethal numbers.
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