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According to a recently released study by Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth America—the only national organization dedicated to better developed communities across the U.S.—those who choose to travel on foot could routinely be taking their life into their own hands. The nationwide study, entitled Dangerous by Design, evaluated and quantified the level of risk most pedestrians face while walking within more than 100 of the top metropolitan areas in the U.S. The results revealed some interesting correlations and cast a rather bright light on disturbing future trends. As I discussed a few months back in a blog on pedestrian safety in our Nation’s capital, pedestrian injuries and deaths are on the rise, but it might not be for the reasons you think.

Compiling reports that ranged from 2005 to 2014, the study revealed that certain social subsets are over represented in pedestrian fatality data—a result of not only who makes up the majority of pedestrians, but also why they choose to walk and where they do most of their walking. As an example, it was noted that low-income individuals account for a large portion of pedestrian deaths each year. While one might assume that this is because fewer people in this group can afford an automobile and must walk out of necessity, the report goes further to say that it is also because poor neighborhoods are one of the worst offenders when it comes to dangerous pedestrian infrastructure. Additionally, the numbers show that people over the age of 65 are more likely to suffer an injury or death while on foot. While limited driving ability might make this group more likely to walk and thereby fall victim to an accident, it’s noted that this age group is also one with slower reflexes and reduced vision that must interact with vehicles driven at fast speeds by distracted drivers—ultimately a bad combination.

Not surprisingly, Smart Growth America designated the state of Florida as having the worst Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths. As part of the southeast U.S., Florida certainly has its share of low-income residents as well as a higher-than-usual ratio of retirees—helping to explain why eight of the top 10 most-dangerous metro areas for people on foot were Florida cities. But this is only half of the equation according to the study, as Florida is also a state infamous for areas of high volume traffic and overburdened, outdated street design.

Yet, state planners have taken notice of such studies and followed up with promising action. In 2014, only four months after the release of Dangerous by Design 2014, the Florida Department of Transportation adopted a “Complete Streets” policy—an approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated and maintained with safety, convenience and accessibility for all users in mind. Since implementing such efforts, several Florida metro areas have seen a reduction in their PDI rating, including Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Orlando-Kissimmee. Such strides exemplify that everyone involved must do their part to end pedestrian deaths and make our roads safer. This includes planners and engineers, policymakers and all who utilize our streets to get from one place to another—because our roadways should be viewed as a community service, and it’s up to us to make sure they are developed and maintained to serve the community as a whole.

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