A new book asserts our country is in the midst of a pedestrian public health crisis, with the number of pedestrian deaths climbing every year.
So how are we doing locally?
First, a little more about the research. The book -- “Right of Way: Race, Class and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America” by Angie Schmitt – arrives at a time when pedestrians deaths nationwide hit a 30-year high in 2019 of 6,590 (or about 18 deaths a day).
What’s behind this rise? Among the issues Schmitt cites are our roads and our vehicles, driving too fast and driving while distracted.
- Our roads: Inadequate bike/ped facilities and roads built to move traffic faster and faster… and even something as simple as pedestrian crossing lights that don’t give older/slower walkers enough time to safely traverse the traffic.
- Our vehicles: The move to SUVs and pickups puts more pedestrians at risk, with vehicles that are bigger and bulkier more likely to result in a pedestrian’s death if they are hit by one.
- Our speed: In a vehicle-pedestrian collision, the faster the vehicle is moving the more damage it will do to the pedestrian. If a vehicle is moving at less than 20 mph, the fatality rate is 5%... at more than 40 mph, the rate jumps to 65%.
- Our phones: Drivers distracted by their devices have slower reaction times and are more likely to drift and otherwise drive erratically… all of which spells trouble for nearby pedestrians. (To be fair, distracted walking is also a factor in some collisions.)
Schmitt also notes that people of color are more at risk, both because they more often rely on walking in their transportation mix and because they often have to do so in places where the pedestrian infrastructure is inadequate or incomplete (if not missing altogether).
Getting back to our local conditions, are pedestrians at risk here?
Yes, although our local numbers may not be rising as dramatically as the national count. Nonetheless, Fort Myers-Cape Coral was ranked the eighth most dangerous metro area by the 2019 “Dangerous by Design” report from Smart Growth America. That’s a slight improvement in ranking from prior years, -- not because our area is doing better, but because other areas are doing worse.
Florida continues to rank as the most dangerous state for pedestrians by a considerable level – which is what you’d expect when eight of the Top 10 worst metro areas are all in Florida.
Remember as well that these are 2019 statistics – meaning pre-Covid. The pandemic pushed a lot of activity outdoors, increasing the chances for pedestrian peril. The only saving grace may be that, while there may have been more pedestrians, there also were fewer vehicles.
Our areas checks off all the elements Schmitt cites as drivers for the national risk:
Our roads, while improving (particularly in some municipalities), still are incomplete or inadequate when it comes to safe spaces for pedestrians – especially in communities that rely on their feet to get around.
Our vehicles keep getting bigger and bulkier, at least looking around on almost every road.
Our driving speeds seem unencumbered by either enforcement or design… although the rise in riding and walking with the pandemic has made drivers more aware of cyclists and pedestrians, at least from anecdotal experience.
Our distractions are still diverting our attention, although we can hope that the new texting laws that took effect last October will help. Again, with the pandemic, it’s too soon to tell.
So should you be afraid to walk along our roadways? No, but you should be very aware. Follow the rules of the road (such as walking facing traffic), be on the defensive for bad drivers, be visible and predictable… and pay attention!
When you’re not being a pedestrian, you can also help by being a better driver. It not only makes the streets safer, it sets a good example for others… which you’ll appreciate when you’re not on the street surrounded by two tons of metal.
With a little caution, you can be a safe pedestrian… and you can avoid becoming a statistic.
Below is what’s scheduled for organized running and biking events locally… but confirm with the organizers and be flexible in case conditions change and large-group activities are limited. Of course, wear a mask and act appropriate to your age, condition and concerns.
FORT MYERS TRACK CLUB (ftmyerstrackclub.com):
- Cops & Joggers Virtual 5K, July 10-Oct. 10 (virtual)
- Sanibel Island 10K Race 4 F.I.S.H., Aug. 18-Oct. 31 (virtual)
- Cape Coral Turkey Trot 5K, Sept. 17-Nov. 26 (virtual)
- City of Palms River Run 10K, Sept. 17-Dec. 5 (virtual)
- Lazy Flamingo Half Marathon & 2-Person Relay, Sept. 17-Dec. 20 (virtual)
GC RUNNERS (gcrunner.org):
- Gulf to Gulf 80 Mile Relay, Saturday, Oct. 17 (in-person)
- Halloween Monster 5K (Naples), Saturday, Oct. 31 (virtual)
- Old Naples 10K, Saturday, Nov. 7 (in-person & virtual)
- GCR Thanksgiving 5K, Thursday, Nov. 26 (in-person & virtual)
- Naples Daily News Half Marathon, Saturday, Jan. 17 (in-person & virtual)
ELITE EVENTS (runeliteevents.com):
- Rocktoberfest 10K and 5K, Naples, Saturday, Oct. 10
- Fall Classic Half Marathon and 5K, Naples, Saturday, Nov. 21
- Thanksgiving Day 5K Run and Walk, Estero, Thursday, Nov. 26
- Naples Christmas Glow Run 5K, Saturday, Dec. 5
- Naples Distance Classic 5K, 10K and Half Marathon, Sunday, Dec. 6
- 2020 LCEC Goblin Gallop 5K, Oct. 31, Jaycee Park, Cape Coral (in-person) (active.com)
- Run for Foster Kids, Oct. 1-31 (virtual) (runsignup.com)
The Caloosa Riders are offering member rides, but some are open to non-members (and it wouldn’t hurt you to join the club); check their ride calendar (caloosariders.org) for a description of the distance and speed, and to see if the ride is open to all.
SW Florida Critical Mass is offering their usual slate of family-friendly rides, although the NE Lee ride seems to be lacking a leader and thus is not on the calendar. The options are below, and you can check out their line-up online (http://www.meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events/) for details and times.
- SW Florida Critical Mass ride, first Friday of the month. A family-friendly slow night ride through Fort Myers. Front and rear bike lights required. Helmet and lights required, meet in the parking lot at 2180 West First Street, Fort Myers.
- Sanibel Critical Mass night ride, second Tuesday of the month. Gathers at Jerry’s Shopping Center, 1700 Periwinkle Way, on Sanibel. Lights required, helmets recommended.
- Cape Coral Critical Mass ride, fourth Friday of the month. Gather at the Southwest Florida Military Museum parking lot at 4820 Leonard Street for a family-friendly night ride through the Cape; helmets and lights required.
- Saturday Morning Slow Roll, fourth Saturday of the month. Meet-up at 2160 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. Recommended for inexperienced/young riders. Distance is 6 miles, includes group ride instruction.
If racing is not your thing but you’d like to support their return nonetheless, consider volunteering to help out at the few in-person offerings ahead. With Covid concerns still corralling some of the club’s usual volunteers, a few new helping hand would certainly be welcomed.