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Mean streets of Florida's roads deadly for walkers

by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area ranked the highest in the number of pedestrian deaths in the nation. Orlando has seen an increase in pedestrian death rate of more than 117 percent in 10 years.

Graphic by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

A report released Dec. 2 by the Surface Transportation Policy Project identifies the most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians. Mean Streets 2004 says four booming Florida regions are at the top of the list of the deadliest places to walk in the nation.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area ranked the highest in the number of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people.

"The report does not entirely reflect the pedestrian safety on base. Yes, we have issues such as dark areas, minimal separation of pedestrian areas from roadways and lack of crosswalks at every intersection," said Jason Jackson, 6th Air Mobility Wing ground/weapons safety manager. "However, the construction on base has changed the comfort zone of most people. We are driving in new traffic patterns and there is a lot of confusion. It will take some time for everyone to get used to the new patterns."

He added that this time of year, the base population increases with the influx of retirees. There are a lot of extra drivers who will be unfamiliar with the new traffic patterns, especially those who do not drive on base every day.

Drivers and pedestrians alike need to know and obey the laws, because they were designed with safety in mind.

According to Mean Streets, in 2003, 4,827 Americans (11.3 percent of all traffic fatalities) died while crossing the street, walking to school or work, going to a bus stop, or strolling to the grocery, among other daily activities. Over the 10-year period 1994 to 2003, 51,989 pedestrians have died on U.S. streets.

Senior citizens, African-American and Latino pedestrians suffer a fatality rate well in excess of the population at large. Also, despite a decline in the total number of pedestrian fatalities over the decade and even though walking declined even faster, more than half of the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas grew more dangerous.

Mean Streets says some simple improvements such as crosswalks and speed limit enforcement can make a difference. Only one-tenth of pedestrian deaths in 2002 to 2003 occurred inside a crosswalk, and a recent federal study shows a 95 percent survivability rate for pedestrians struck by a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour, while those struck at 40 mph survived just 15 percent of the time.

"Pedestrians need to look out for number one. Don't rely on driver's to see you," said Mr. Jackson, offering some simple tips for walkers on base to remember when out and about. "Look both ways prior to crossing. Cross at well lit intersections. Wear bright clothing and reflective gear during hours of reduced visibility. Do not wear headsets in the roadways, even when you're just crossing the street. The idea is to protect yourself."

The Orlando area, which has seen an increase in pedestrian death rate of more than 117 percent in the last 10 years, ranks as the area with the meanest streets today, as well as the streets that have worsened the most over the last decade. Other metropolitan areas with worsening pedestrian death rates over the last 10 years included Richmond, Va., with a more than 70 percent increase in deaths and Memphis, Tenn., with a rate of 42.6 percent.Florida's elderly population doesn't account for its high ranking. Seventeen percent of pedestrians killed in Florida were 70 and older - the same as the national average.

A 2003 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a government agency, also ranked pedestrian deaths - but the breakdown was by city rather than metropolitan area. Cities in Florida occupied five of the top 10 spots, including numbers one, two and three.

But that report linked many pedestrian deaths to factors such as alcohol use and dark roadways. Agency spokeswoman Elly Martin declined to comment on the link the new report draws between sprawl and deaths of walkers.

The news is not all bleak. The Salt Lake City area cut its pedestrian death rate by nearly half over the last decade, Portland reduced pedestrian deaths by one-third, and Austin, Texas, New Orleans and Los Angeles saw their death rates drop by nearly 20 percent. Cleveland had the least deadly ranking. The figures are for the years 2002 and 2003.




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