The deadliest state to walk

Welcome to Florida. We’ve got it all.

Stunning beaches, world class theme parks. Enjoy your visit.

Just don’t get out of your car. 

Because outside the protection of your air conditioned steel exoskeleton, Florida’s car friendly roads are mean streets indeed.

Add to the growing list of things we don’t want tourists to know about – red tide, green algae, Florida Man – is this stunner. 

Florida is the most pedestrian deadly state in America.

Eight of the nation’s ten most dangerous metro areas for walkers are right here in the Sunshine State. Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Daytona, Ft. Myers, Sarasota…the usual suspects.

In just the past decade, more than 5,400 pedestrians in Florida have been killed by motorists. 

This according to the latest annual “Dangerous By Design” report by Smart Growth America.

Nationally, more than 49,000 pedestrians have been killed in the decade just past. 

“That’s more than 13 people per day, or one person every hour and 46 minutes,” the group reports. “It’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people crashing—with no survivors—every single month.”

And here’s the really worrisome thing. Pedestrian death rates are on the rise even as overall traffic fatalities are decreasing. 

The last decade saw a 35 percent increase in pedestrian deaths. Meanwhile, fatalities among motor vehicle occupants shrank by 6.1 percent. 

So cars are getting safer? Well, they are certainly getting faster, bigger and heavier – witness the increase in SUV and pickup truck sales, while sedan lines are being discontinued for lack of consumer interest.

“Why is this happening?” poses SGA. “We’re not walking more, and we’re only driving slightly more than we were back in 2008.”

Rather, “we are continuing to design streets that are dangerous for all people.”

And you don’t have to go to Orlando or Tampa to see examples of dangerously overdesigned “stroads” (high-speed roads disguised as city streets). 

Just take a drive east on Archer Road through the heart of the UF medical center complex – at the point where the speed limit abruptly drops from 45 mph to 25 and then 20 mph.

That corridor is a pedestrian rich environment, with health care workers, visitors and patients alike crossing Archer to get from one hospital to another. So 20 mph makes eminent sense

But try driving the legal limit there and watch the cars speed past you. 

Again, the problem isn’t the posted limit. The problem is that Archer – and 34th Street, and 16th Blvd, and 13th Street and so many other Gainesville stroads – are designed to highway specifications, with broad, multiple travel lanes, clear lines of sight, and few roadside obstructions. 

Traffic engineers call them “forgiving” roads, designed to minimize the potential for injuries and deaths when motorists do something reckless. Like drive too fast through the heart of the city. 

But forgiving roads are also empowering roads. By their very design they encourage people to drive faster than the law or common sense dictates. That’s good for motorists in a hurry, but a potential death sentence if you are on foot and trying to cross the road.

Gainesville is among a growing number of cities that are beginning to adopt “Vision Zero” and “Complete Streets” policies aimed at calming traffic and making life safer for pedestrians and cyclists. But transportation funding priorities and road design standards are largely decided by state and federal officials. 

Listen, if jumbo jets were falling out of the sky at a rate of one per month they would certainly sit up and take notice in D.C. and Tallahassee. 

So why are so many dead pedestrians of so little concern?

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

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