Dangerous places to go for a walk

Published Monday, November 23, 2009

The Tampa Bay area has won the dubious distinction among the nation's 52 largest metropolitan areas as the second most dangerous place to walk. A recent report doesn't blame heavy traffic, or careless motorists or pedestrians. Instead, it points the finger at how our roads were built, stating they are "dangerous by design."

The problem isn't confined to Tampa Bay (defined in the report as Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater). Florida metro areas are the top four most dangerous in the nation for pedestrians. The report is further evidence that it's past time for Florida to get serious about designing and retrofitting roads to make them safer for pedestrians. That would improve communities' livability and transportation alternatives, and it would save lives.

The nonprofit group Transportation for America's "Pedestrian Danger Index" is created by dividing the average annual pedestrian fatality rate for a metro area by the percentage of people who walk to work. Orlando/Kissimmee had the highest danger index at 221.5, followed by Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater at 205.5; Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano Beach at 181.2; and Jacksonville at 157.4. By comparison, Atlanta ranked 10th with a danger index of 108.3.

According to the report, Florida ranks poorly because it has sprawling metro areas with high-speed arterial roads that move vehicles quickly and because pedestrian safety hasn't been a priority of decisionmakers and road designers.One measure of that low priority is dollars spent. The report says from 2005 through 2008, Florida spent $6.7 billion in federal funds on transportation projects. Only 1.5 percent was devoted to pedestrian projects. That explains why so many Florida roads lack sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks and pedestrian overpasses.

St. Petersburg provides one bright spot. The city has made pedestrian safety a priority, adding sidewalks, miles of bike trails, pedestrian crossing signals and more visible crosswalks. The result can be seen in lives saved. There were 143 pedestrian accidents in the city in 2000, 70 in 2008.

It is essential that government officials make pedestrian safety a priority by ensuring that no new roads are constructed without pedestrian safety features and by retrofitting existing roadways on an aggressive schedule. Those measures, combined with more vigilance by pedestrians and motorists, may one day get Florida off the most dangerous list.


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