2014-03-11

Co.Exist

Fewer Cars Are Killing Pedestrians, Thanks—Apparently—To Florida

One not-crazy thing has come out of the Sunshine State. A re-thinking of road design in the last few years is now seeing the benefits: so many fewer pedestrian deaths that it's caused a drastic change in national numbers.

The number of pedestrians killed by cars in the United States dropped by nearly 9% in the first half of 2013, according to a new report.

This is good news, but it came as somewhat of a surprise: Pedestrian deaths had actually been increasing steadily over the last three years, though the number of motor vehicle crashes had declined. And while California, Texas, and Florida had ranked as the worst offenders since 2010 (together making up a third of national pedestrian fatalities), Florida also showed the most improvement in the first six months of 2013.

Yes, Florida, with its starved public infrastructure and everything, shrank its pedestrian death toll by nearly 24% compared to the first six months of 2012, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, an organization made up of state highway safety offices across the country.

How? Let's zoom in on the Sunshine State, home to some of the most car-centric culture in the United States. In 2011, four Florida cities, with Orlando in the lead, ranked as the most dangerous places for pedestrians in the country. A Transportation for America report at the time showed that black and Hispanic Floridians, who were the least likely to own cars, experienced the worst fatality rates.

The report highlighted wide roads, helpful for speeding, as a possible reason why so many people were dying in the streets. The New York Times also pointed out that bus stops were usually located between intersections and far away from stoplights, which put bus riders darting across the roads at risk.

Florida, however, has begun taking the design of its roads, and advocating for cyclists and pedestrians, more seriously. According to USA Today, the state has implemented some encouraging changes:

Florida's wide-ranging approach includes adding two full-time bike and pedestrian safety specialists to each of seven DOT district offices, plus two in central headquarters; one member of each team focuses on planning and design of roads and streets, the other on safety programs once infrastructure is built.

The new design also features road "diets," which would narrow Florida's notoriously wide thoroughfares:

The state added enforcement and education components, is re-writing bike and pedestrian traffic laws for clarity, and is increasing the use of roundabouts and road "diets." That means reducing unnecessary capacity on some roads to discourage speeding — cutting the number of lanes from four to three, for example.

The transformation of St. Petersburg in particular shows how much infrastructure can impact human health. While the city used to have some of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the state, local officials invested $20 million in cyclist and pedestrian safety starting in 2003. They added 93 miles of bike lane, turned an abandoned railroad into a recreation trail, and also implemented something called the "Enhancer," a flashing light at intersections that alerted drivers to crossing pedestrians.

As a result, the city's Department of Transportation and Parking reported a 60% reduction in crashes involving pedestrians. Fancy that!

The figures arrive as other parts of the country, including New York City, are aiming towards "Vision Zero" policies for zero traffic deaths on city streets. Now, if only other parts of Florida would give up the notion that bike lanes are part of a United Nations conspiracy bent on world domination, roads could be safer for everyone. Florida Man, we're looking at you.

[Image: Smashed windshield via Shutterstock]

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