Pedestrian deaths around the country rose sharply last year, according to data compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association and recently published by CityLab, a blog that is part of The Atlantic magazine. The news is troubling, and perhaps even a little counter-intuitive and should prompt officials at every level to look more closely with how we design our roads and streets.
The group “estimates that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic increased 10 percent from 2014 to 2015 in the US. That number, based on preliminary data reported by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is in line with a longer-term trend: From 2009 to 2014, pedestrian fatalities increased by 19 percent, even as total traffic deaths declined over that same period.”
According to the GHSA the highest pedestrian fatality rate is 3.55 per 100,000 people in New Mexico. Minnesota is the safest state for pedestrians with only 0.27 fatalities per 100,000. Oregon, at 1.44, comes in a little better than the national average of 1.53 while Washington State is significantly better at 1.06. (all figures are for 2014)
In seeking to understand why the numbers are rising – and rose so sharply last year – the magazine offered several theories: “cheap gas prices, population growth and a rebounding economy are all likely drivers in this worrying trend. Total vehicle miles driven in the U.S. surged to 3.148 trillion in 2015, up from the previous year. Distracted driving and distracted walking don’t help either.”
As a Portland attorney focused on traffic accidents, distracted driving and on assisting the pedestrian and cycling communities there are some obvious takeaways from this study. The first, and largest, is that much of the country still has a long way to go in converting our car-centered cities into something more friendly to multiple modes of transportation. Making that happen will require sustained effort on the part of political leaders. Changes to car-pedestrian patterns are much more effective if they are rolled out in a sustained and consistent way rather than in a small, piecemeal way. The Atlantic’s article closes with a call from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx: “Everyone with a responsibility for road safety… needs to reassess our efforts to combat threats to safety.” That is well-said, and represents an excellent starting place.