If you’re going to go take a hike, it’s best not to do it in Florida. For the third pedestrian death analysis in a row, the Sunshine State had the highest fatality rates in the United States.
The finding is from Smart Growth America’s "Dangerous by Design" report, authored by a coalition of smart growth advocates, urban planners, and the AARP. It looked at who was dying on foot, and where.
Nationally, their findings reaffirmed a slew of disturbing, long-standing trends: Like the fact that people of color (particularly American Indians and Alaska Natives), children, and the elderly face disproportionate pedestrian fatalities, while white people emerge from the statistics relatively less maimed. Southern areas also put pedestrians at the most risk. If you want to see how your city and state rank, check out the interactive map.
Some of the inequalities in the data can be explained by the design of our landscape, says Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets deputy director Stefanie Seskin. Poor communities of color are often located next to highways and big, wide arterial roadways, which were the site of more than half of pedestrian deaths between 2003 and 2012. Suburban sprawl also has something to do with it: Where there’s a dearth of sidewalks, an abundance of wide roads, and little regard for the speed limit, more people get killed.
Until very recently, Florida appeared unwilling to change the conditions of its stubborn sprawl. "People who were walking or riding their bikes weren’t accounted for in the designing of these streets," Seskin explained. "Florida is relatively flat, it’s warm, it’s sunny, and people want to be out walking and biking. So you have a really bad mix."
Since the last Dangerous by Design report fingered Florida as the nation’s worst pedestrian killer in 2011, however, the state has made some positive changes. For every district, Florida has hired two officials to oversee improvements to biking and walking safety. And last year, Florida adopted a plan to better improve its pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Individual Floridian cities have also made extensive changes. Take St. Petersburg, for example, which—after investing $20 million, adding 93 miles of bike lane, and improving pedestrian intersections—reported a 60% reduction in its pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2013.
Dangerous by Design’s numbers are only as recent as 2012, so the report wasn’t really able to take into account the latest improvements. But Florida clearly has a long way to go. It was only 2011 when the state’s Tea Party contingent started a campaign to deny smart growth planning principles in some areas, based on the idea that the inspiration for them was some kind of United Nations conspiracy.
Governor Rick Scott also has a track record of rejecting significant federal support for transportation infrastructure in his state. In 2011, the governor rejected $2.4 billion in federal funding for a high-speed rail line between traffic-clogged Tampa and Orlando, a project Florida's own transportation department projected to be lucrative.
At the same time, the new changes are encouraging. And many road diets, as well as improvements in cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure, are relatively cheap. "The main thing is that we know people are dying and it’s unacceptable," Seskin says. "But we also know we have the solutions at hand and we need to be serious about applying them."