Nov. 11, 2009 -- Ditching the car in favor of walking may be good for your health, but it also can be deadly — especially if you live in one of Florida's major metro areas.
A report released this week finds more than 43,000 pedestrians nationwide have died this decade on roads the authors complain don't provide adequate crosswalks and other safety features.
Less than 1.5 percent of total transportation funds are spent on such measures, even though pedestrians comprise 11.8 percent of all traffic deaths and nearly the same percentage of all trips taken.
"As Congress prepares to rewrite the nation's transportation laws, this report is yet another wake-up call showing why it is so urgent to update our policies and spending priorities," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America.
The report, Dangerous By Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods), ranks the 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians. The top four are in Florida.
Top 10 Most Dangerous Metropolitan Areas for Pedestrians
The 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians in 2007-2008 were Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Raleigh, North Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; Houston; Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta.
The three safest cities were Seattle; Portland, Oregon; and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The authors compiled the list after gathering data from all 360 metropolitan areas in the United States. The Surface Transportation Policy Partnership sorted the data using the Pedestrian Danger Index, an equation that takes a metropolitan area's population and divides it by the number of fatalities in that area.
Orlando came out on top with 2.9 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents. That's despite the fact just 1.3 percent of the area's residents walk to work, the report notes.
Many of the deaths occurred on streets that have few provisions for pedestrians, cyclists or those in wheelchairs. According to the report, of the 9,168 pedestrian fatalities in 2007-2008 where the location of the accident is known, more than 40 percent were killed in a spot where there was no crosswalk.
The report notes that only one in 10 pedestrian deaths occurred in a crosswalk. Sixty percent occurred on an arterial road where the speed limit was 40 mph or higher.
Report: States Not Spending Enough to Make Roads Safer for Pedestrians
The authors complain that states aren't spending enough to make roads safer for people who are on foot, on a bike or in a wheelchair. The report finds wide disparities in the amount each state spends. For example, Providence, Rhode Island, spends $4.01 per person to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety, while Orlando spends 87 cents.
"Too many transportation agencies have focused their investments on serving vehicles that result in unsafe, unhealthy environments for walking and bicycling," said Anne Canby, president of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. "It's time recipients of federal taxpayers' money were held accountable for addressing this epidemic of preventable deaths."
The report finds minority and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted. African-Americans, for example, have a pedestrian fatality rate of 3.01; the rate is 2.88 for Hispanics. Nationally, the rate for all people is 1.53. People 65 and older are at a higher risk, too, with a pedestrian fatality rate of 2.69.
The authors offer some solutions that parallel a national trend toward reconfiguring streets to make them safer and more appealing to pedestrians without adversely impacting traffic flow.
By using traffic calming techniques like reconfiguring road alignments and installing barriers like roundabouts to slow drivers, streets become more accessible. Expanding the Safe Routes to School program, which installs or improves crosswalks, signals and other features, would make walking and biking safer for children.
And more cities are adopting so-called complete streets policies that give all modes of transportation, from walking to driving to riding the bus, equal access and the same priority.
Many of these issues could come up when Congress debates the The Surface Transportation Authorization Act, a 775-page bill outlining how some $450 billion in transportation spending should be divvied up.
"These policy changes would make our streets safer for millions of Americans, whether they are walking, driving or bicycling, and they would promote healthy levels of exercise," said George Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "We must convey to Congress that the status quo is unacceptable and compel legislators to act."