The News-Press, January 31, 2019
by Ken Gooderham
The recently released “Dangerous by Design” 2019 report noted a rise in overall pedestrian deaths nationally, with Florida as the most dangerous state for pedestrian fatalities (again) and Lee County remaining in the Top 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas (albeit moving from its No. 1 position in 2016 to No. 8 in this edition) in the country – and eight of the top 10 most dangerous areas are in Florida).
Looking over a broader arc of time, from 2008 to 2017 nationally:
• Vehicle miles traveled increased by 8.1%,
• Walking as a share of all trips increase by less than 1%,
• Traffic deaths among motor vehicle occupants decreased by 6.1%
• And pedestrian deaths increased by 35.1%.
So we’re not really walking more, and it’s safer to be in a vehicle than it was before – but pedestrian deaths have jumped more than four times the increase in vehicle miles traveled. What gives?
A lot of the problem is being chalked up to street design – specifically, streets designed only to move motor traffic and not foot or bicycle traffic – as well as more distracted drivers… yes, we’re talking about you there texting on your cell phone as you drive to work.
Think about it… streets designed to move only motor vehicles (and move them as quickly as possible) usually leave out safe places for people to walk and bike – places away from fast-moving motor vehicles such as off-road sidewalks and shared use paths and buffered bike lanes – as well as safe places to cross the traffic lanes – crosswalks and other pedestrian crossings that are safe and convenient to use (for the walkers, that is).
Without those safe places, pedestrians and cyclists are either forced to find another route or forced to share the road in a way that’s not really sharing – and not really safe. Then add in the motor vehicle operator who is paying more attention to his or her electronic devices than they are to the demanding work of driving – and a momentary lapse in attention becomes a life-threatening situation for a nearby walker or biker who unfortunately has nowhere else to go but right next to the traffic lanes.
Enticing distractions and bad road designs – a recipe for pedestrian disaster.
But to go back to the initial question: How dangerous is it to walk or ride here? If you have choices – of routes, let’s say, or times of day or any other option that would let you take a safer route – you can probably feel pretty safe. Walk on the sidewalk or shared use path, ride on a bike path or bike lane – and, of course, keep your wits about you while you doing this – and you’ll more often than not return home safe.
But if you don’t have the luxury of making those kind of choices, if you have to walk along a busy road to get to work or school or shopping, and you have to do it during rush hour, before dawn or after dusk – being a pedestrian can be dangerous.
A lot of our major roadways – where jobs and shops and schools tend to be – weren’t design for pedestrian or bicycle traffic. They were designed to move vehicles as quickly as possible from A to B… and even with upgrades to overcome design flaws, they can still be a pretty scary place to walk or bike.
Pedestrians and cyclists can (and should) do whatever they can to be safer, more visible and more aware when they are biking or walking, Bright colors, flashing lights or reflectors and smart walking or biking make a difference.
Of course, we all should encourage our public officials to design and build better roadways (and fix the ones that need to be updated), roads that take into account ALL the users… because well-designed roads make ALL of us safer, whether we’re driving, biking or walking.
Finally, we should all start paying more attention to what we’re doing – whether we’re walking or biking or driving (but especially driving). Put down the phone, turn down the music, take off the headsets – and focus on the most important task at hand, getting yourself safely from one place to another.
Some dangers are done by design, others out of bad habits. Either way, we can and should do something about them.
Ready to ride or run?Run? Plenty of 5Ks this weekend and next, where you can run for education, clean water, the arts, scouting and even Rotary.. and there’s even a special Edison Festival race for kids! Details at ftmyerstrackclub.com, gcrunner.org, 3dracinginc.com, runforthearts.com and trifind.com.
Ride? If the weather lets you hit the road, a few rides ahead: Critical Mass amasses for the downtown Fort Myers ride Friday night and the Sanibel ride Feb. 9 (meetup.com) Looking for more? Head to Arcadia Feb. 9 for Ride for Tiny Town and 60-, 30- or 15-mile rides. (caloosariders.org). Not enough? Then throw in the Wakey, Wakey! Sunday morning rides (helmets are required, no ear buds, and no aero bar use while in the group).
Both? Upcoming events include:
- Sunday, Feb.11: Tri Your Heart Out sprint, Sarasota (trifind.com)
- Saturday, May 11: Cape Coral Sprint Tri (trifind.com)
- Saturday, May 18: Life’s a Beach Tri, Sarasota (trifind.com)
- Sunday, June 2: 33rd Annual Fitness Challenge Triathlon, Naples (trifind.com)
- Sunday, June 9: Heartland Sprint and Olympic Tri, Sebring (trifind.com)
- Sunday, June 23: Sirens Sprint Tri, Sarasota (trifind.com)
- Willing to drive? Check trifind.com or active.com for tris around the state.