In some parts of the country (think of a cartoon mouse with white gloves), you take your life in your hands when stepping off a curb. In other places, walking or biking is relatively safe. I know an elderly couple who were killed by a speeding car, and I bet you do, too. In the past 15 years, 76,000 Americans have been killed while walking in the streets — 43,000 since 2000.
Yes, that most dangerous metro area is Orlando, Fla. Here’s the full list, which doesn’t say much for Florida’s pedestrian safety programs. Or the South’s — all 10 are below the Mason-Dixon Line:
- Orlando/Kissimmee, Fla.
- Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Fla.
- Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano Beach, Fla.
- Jacksonville, Fla.
- Memphis, Tenn.
- Raleigh/Cary, N.C.
- Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky/Indiana
- Houston/Sugar Land/Baytown, Texas
- Birmingham/Hoover, Ala.
- Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Marietta, Ga.
They call them “accidents,” but they are preventable. The issue is not only people driving too fast on the state “arterial” roads most of us use to get to work or the shopping center, but also poor sidewalk and street-crossing design.
According to Anne Canby, executive director of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, “The takeaway is that safety for pedestrians hasn’t advanced much. Five thousand die every year, which is the equivalent of a jumbo jet going down every month. And if that were to happen, people would be totally outraged. But pedestrians and bicyclists (who aren’t counted in the statistics, but are equally victims of the carnage) are killed and injured at a much higher rate than airline passengers.”
Dr. Linda Degutis, an associate professor of emergency medicine and public health at Yale, said that the scary state of our roads is a factor in the rising rates of heart disease and diabetes in the U.S. “The American Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control are worried about these health issues, and it’s only going to get worse,” she said. “We haven’t seen a significant decline in deaths of pedestrians.”
Watch out if you’re over 65. Elinor Ginzler, director for livable communities at AARP, says that you’re two-thirds more likely to be killed while walking than a younger person. Ginzler said 40 percent of respondents in an AARP survey said they had inadequate sidewalks where they live. “And almost half said they cannot safely cross major roads near where they live,” she said.
Transportation activists are calling for investment in safety on the state and regional level. Less than 2 percent of federal funds devoted to transportation go to improve walking and biking, though pedestrians take almost 9 percent of trips (but are nearly 12 percent of traffic deaths).
Some cities should bask in their relative safety. Minneapolis (which is pedestrian-friendly, in the summer at least) is the safest, followed by Boston/Cambridge/Quincy in Massachusetts (despite what they say about Boston drivers), New York and northern New Jersey, Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Seattle/Tacoma in Washington, Rochester in New York, Cincinnati/Middletown in Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana, Hartford/West Hartford/East Hartford in Connecticut, Portland/Vancouver/Beaverton in Oregon/Washington, and Cleveland/Elyria/Mentor in Ohio.
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