Florida pedestrian toll sees ‘glimmer of hope’ but vexing challenges remain, safety groups say
Orlando Sentinel |
Mar 26, 2021 at 6:00 AM
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Another safety group has reported that the nation’s streets during the pandemic have been particularly dangerous for pedestrians, with Florida ranking during the first half of 2020 among the most deadly states for people walking near traffic.
The nonprofit Governors Highway Safety Association , which partners with state leaders and transportation agencies on safety policy and practices, found that 2,957 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. during the first six months of 2020.
That toll was just six more than during the same period in 2019. But beginning in March last year, the rise of COVID cases resulted in plunging traffic volumes. The number of pedestrian deaths per every billion miles of vehicle travel jumped from 1.8 in 2019 to 2.2 last year for the first six months of both years.
Fewer cars meant less congestion and higher speeds, which is the leading factor in pedestrian deaths, analysts say.
“Factors have combined to put pedestrians at historical levels of risk,” said Jonathan Adkins, the group’s executive director.
The pedestrian toll from January through June last year was 485 in California, 335 in Texas, 332 in Florida, 121 in North Carolina, 113 in Georgia, 106 in Arizona and 101 in New York. All other states saw fewer than 100 pedestrian deaths, with Vermont having the fewest with 1.
In releasing his group’s report this week, Adkins urged communities to employ “every tool available to save lives, including engineering, community outreach, emergency response and equitable enforcement that prioritizes the prevention of driving behaviors – like speeding, distraction and impairment.”
The Governors Highway Safety Association report found that pedestrians who are Black, indigenous and of color were killed at a higher rate than white pedestrians. “This reinforces the need for racial equity to be a centerpiece of comprehensive pedestrian safety action plans,” the report states.
Further findings included: most pedestrians are killed on local roads, in the dark and away from intersections; alcohol was involved in nearly half of pedestrian fatalities; and deaths involving SUVs and light trucks are increasing rapidly.
With its rush of development in recent decades that favored the movement of traffic over the safety of walkers, Florida faces enormous challenges in addressing its status as a perennial front-runner in putting pedestrians at risk.
The Governors Highway Safety Association did find that Florida was among a minority of states with a drop in fatalities. Florida reported 385 pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2019 and 332 in the first half of 2020.
The 2020 statistic may be an outlier because of the pandemic but Richard Retting, a consultant who conducted analysis for the Governors Highway Safety Association, called it a “glimmer of hope.”
The Governors Highway Safety Association comes on the heels of another report this month that highlighted both Florida and the Orlando region continuing their holds on ranking as the most dangerous in the nation for pedestrians.
Issued every few years, the Dangerous by Design report by the safety-advocacy groups Smart Growth America and National Complete Streets Coalition has made the Orlando area infamous for having risky roads for people walking.
Dangerous by Design reports in 2009, 2011 and 2014 also ranked the Orlando area as the most dangerous in the nation. The reports take into account a decade of the most recently available statistics. This year’s report also emphasized a spike in deaths during the pandemic.