Researchers at Smart Growth America recently analyzed the safety of pedestrians nationwide, finding that not only is the problem worsening, but it’s especially bad in the South.
In particular, the Dangerous by Design 2014 report found the Birmingham-Hoover metro area to be the sixth-most dangerous place for walkers in the country.
Study authors calculated the ranks by determining the average number of pedestrians versus the number of those killed on the streets and sidewalks. This gave them what they called the “pedestrian danger index,” or PDI.
Birmingham-Hoover tallied 148 pedestrian deaths between 2003 and 2012, resulting in a PDI of 125.6. Compare this to Houston, Texas, which had a total of 1,034 pedestrian fatalities during those years, yet ranked No. 7 with a PDI of 119.64. Rounding out the top 10, all but one of those cities (Phoenix, Arizona) was in the southeastern part of the U.S. Birmingham injury lawyers recognize these areas grew rapidly as post-war suburbia brought roads to rural areas. That meant wide streets and fast speed limits, primarily catering to motor vehicles. Pedestrians were an afterthought, if they were a thought at all.
We are now paying a steep price for that oversight. Birmingham officials report 7.6 percent of all traffic accident fatalities are pedestrians.
Just recently on 3rd Avenue in Birmingham, three pedestrians were struck and a driver injured during a two-vehicle crash. Police say a car collided with a van, causing the car to spin out of control and careen into a crowd of folks standing on the sidewalk. One of the pedestrians was left in critical condition. The other had several broken bones. The third complained of pain in his neck from the impact. Authorities continue to investigate.
This incident highlights another issue in the report, which is that injuries stemming from pedestrian crashes cost us all. While there were more than 47,000 pedestrian deaths in the U.S. during the study, there were 676,000 people injured. Most of those individuals had to be hospitalized, forced to undergo surgeries and extensive therapies, and in some cases, suffered permanent disability. They may have survived, but their lives are often never the same.
So how do we fix the problem? Researchers say the approach on motor vehicle fatalities has proven dramatic improvements are possible. Following decades of intense advocacy, the number of motor vehicle deaths has been slashed by a third since the 1980s. However, less focus has been given to pedestrians. That is changing.
Some municipalities, such as New York City, have begun working toward a “Vision Zero” effort, which involves street redesign and enhanced enforcement, with the ultimate goal of reducing pedestrian fatalities to none.
Part of that redesign is going to have to include speed limit reductions. The researchers state that nearly 62 percent of all pedestrian deaths occurred on roads that had a speed limit of 40 mph or higher. Meanwhile, just nine percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred on roads with speed limits of 30 mph or less.
This is a particularly timely discussion here in Alabama, where state legislators have been weighing a measure to increase the maximum interstate speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph. On rural interstates, the speed limit would be thrust up to 80 mph. A recent local newspaper poll indicated 86 percent popular support for these measures.
Given the vastly negative impact this could have on walkers, we hope that legislators will reconsider their position.
Why Southern cities are so much more dangerous for pedestrians, May 21, 2014, By Emily Badger, The Washington Post
Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush – Alabama Supreme Court Rules on DUI Death Lawsuit, May 27, 2014, Birmingham Pedestrian Accident Lawyer Blog