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Elderly, poor, minorities disproportionally account for pedestrian deaths: study

Over the past decade, 49,340 pedestrians were killed while walking American streets with people on the margins of society disproportionally represented.

According to Dangerous by Design 2019, a study on pedestrian fatalities published Wednesday by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition, America has become 35 percent more dangerous for pedestrians over the last 10 years despite overall traffic fatalities trending downwards.

"We are killing an airliner's worth of people walking each and every month - and these numbers are increasing," National Complete Streets Coalition Director Emiko Atherton said. "This is a wake-up call for all of us."

Atherton called the situation "a preventable epidemic."

Black people and American Indians are disproportionally at risk as the most dangerous roads are located near communities of color, the study said, adding that "implicit bias" was also to blame as drivers are more likely to yield to a white pedestrian at a crosswalk than to a person of color.

Those in poorer communities are also at greater risk with people in communities with a median household income up to $36,000 over twice as represented in fatalities than those in communities with median incomes between $79,000 and $250,000.

The study also found that those over the age of 50 were disproportionately represented in fatal crashes, with those over 75 facing the greatest relative pedestrian danger due to sight, hearing and movement impairment.

"Many places still lack the most basic infrastructure for walking," the report said. "For example, crosswalks, if they do exist at all, are often spaced so far apart as to be impractical, or don't provide enough time for older adults to cross safely."

Lane width was a determining factor in the likelihood of a pedestrian surviving a collision, the report found, as the wider the lane, the faster vehicles could drive around corners.

Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects, said in a statement that she welcomed the review.

"Too often, danger is built right into our nation's streets, especially in communities with large elderly populations and people of color," Somerville said. "Strong policies are needed that will allow landscape architects to continue to put good street designs to work to reduce unnecessary risks and make sure our transportation systems equitably serve all Americans."

The report ranks states and metropolises based on their "Pedestrian Danger Index" for 2019, which calculates how deadly a location is based on the number of pedestrians struck and killed by vehicles, while controlling for the number of people who live in the location and the number of those who walk to work.

The greater Orlando area was named the most dangerous metropolis in America followed by the metropolis of Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, the area of Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville and the district of North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, all in the state of Florida.

Florida was by far the most dangerous state with Alabama coming in second, followed by Delaware and Luisiana.

"It is critically important we reverse this trend," said Orlando's transportation director Billy Hattaway. "The only acceptable number of pedestrian deaths is zero and the city is doing everything in its power to achieve this goal."

The safest state for pedestrians in 2019 was Vermont, according to the study.

The report is calling on all levels of government to improve pedestrian safety be designing roads to reduce speeds and prioritize projects that will help prevent the deaths of those most disproportionally represented in the study.
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