Florida remains deadliest state for pedestrians; Polk County 5th most-deadly area in US in ‘Dangerous by Design’ report

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Florida metropolitan areas dominate the “Dangerous by Design” report released by the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America.

LAKELAND — Polk County made the list this year as the fifth most deadly metropolitan area for pedestrians in America.

A report, “Dangerous by Design,” released by the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America said the Lakeland-Winter Haven metropolitan statistical area ranked fifth in the nation.

Florida metros dominate the list.

The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area topped the list, followed by Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, and North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton in the top four.

And although we are not walking more, and only slightly driving more, the report notes that the streets, which were designed for the movement of vehicles, have not changed.

“Many places still lack the basic safe infrastructure for walking. For example, crosswalks, if they do exist at all, are often spaced as far apart as to be impractical, or don’t provide enough time for older adults to safely cross,” said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America. “Unnecessarily wide lanes encourage high speeds, a major factor in the likelihood of surviving a collision, and many streets are designed with wide turning lanes that allow cars to make right turns through crosswalks at high speeds. ”

The report said pedestrian deaths increased by 35.4 percent, while vehicle miles traveled increased by 8.1 percent. Walking as a share of all trips increased by less than 1 percent. And traffic deaths among motor vehicle occupants decreased by 6.1 percent nationally.

Not only are the streets dangerous for pedestrians, notes the report, but some vehicle types are as well.

“According to a 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, SUVs and pickup trucks are two to three times more likely than smaller personal vehicles like sedans to kill people walking in the event of a crash,” said the report.

The report calls for a strong federal Complete Streets policy that not only sets performance measures for creating safer roadways, but also penalizing those metros who fail to meet those targets.

The 2019 edition of Dangerous by Design includes traffic deaths that occurred between 2008 and 2017 from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a national database of all fatal traffic crashes.

The measure of the Pedestrian Danger Index is calculated by dividing the number of pedestrian deaths of a given population by the population and multiplying that by 100,000 to equal the number of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in the population. According to the State Pedestrian Index from 2008-2017, Florida saw 5,433 pedestrian fatalities, which is an average 2.73 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people.

Urban sprawl is blamed in research by Smart Growth America, which found that “the most sprawling metropolitan areas with wider roads and longer blocks typically cluster in the southern states.”

Additionally, Smart Growth America found that the most vulnerable populations were the elderly, people of color, and people in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

‘Complete Streets’ projects locally

M.J. Carnevale, Winter Haven Public Works Department director, said Winter Haven has been actively working to improve pedestrian access and walkability throughout the city.

“Some key elements include Complete Streets projects,” Carnevale said. “This approach places pedestrian transit on an equal playing field with vehicle transit.”

Listing current and future projects along Seventh Street West, Lake Silver Drive, Avenue C and Second Street SW, and Avenue K Northeast, Carnevale said the city also has required all new private developments to incorporate pedestrian improvements as part of their plans.

Road tables on Central Avenue, the newly completed South Central Park and the city’s new comprehensive sidewalk inventory are a few ways Winter Haven is trying to get ahead in pedestrian safety.

A recent map released by the Polk Transportation Organization regarding 2018 transportation fatalities in Polk County revealed there were no pedestrian or bicycle fatalities inside the city limits last year, and two pedestrian fatalities just outside of the city limits on U.S. 17.

Winter Haven Police said they have tried to help educate the community with a WalkSmart brochure, as well as a Bike and Pedestrian Safety Law Synopsis pamphlet available in the police station lobby.

Public Safety Director Charlie Bird said the police motor unit runs pedestrian safety campaigns that specifically target high-foot traffic areas of the city. Bird said WHPD also works with business partners to pinpoint areas where pedestrians are typically seen crossing outside of a crosswalk.

“When a location is identified that has large gaps between intersections with crosswalks, we determine strategies that can help funnel pedestrians to the crosswalks. One strategy could be shrubbery surrounding a parking lot or business directly adjacent to a sidewalk or aesthetically pleasing fencing that can help limit access to the roadway outside of the designated crosswalks,” said Bird.

What is Lakeland doing to improve pedestrian safety?

“We are still digesting the contents of the report and the locations of the crashes upon which the calculations are based,” said Kevin Cook, city of Lakeland Director of Communications, in an email.

That said, he added, “The Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area’s No. 5 ranking is very concerning and highlights the importance and urgency with which we must implement traffic safety projects and programs in our community.”

Lakeland has introduced several safety measures, he said, such as the five-second head start for pedestrians at certain signals downtown, a new diagonal crosswalk at the Lake Miriam/Cleveland Heights intersection and pedestrian enhancements around Lake Morton.

The Florida Department of Transportation has rolled out its new Complete Streets policy, which includes a plan for a transportation system appropriate for surrounding land uses, Cook said.

Polk Transportation Planning Organization sets aside $5 million to $6 million in federal funding for Complete Streets projects throughout Polk County.

Drivers struck and killed 49,340 people between 2008 and 2017 nationwide, noted Dangerous by Design.

Billy Hattaway, the Orlando director of transportation, said about being No. 1: “It is critically important we reverse this trend. The only acceptable number of pedestrian deaths is zero and the city is doing everything in its power to achieve this goal.”

Kathy Leigh Berkowitz can be reached at kberkowitz@theledger.com or at 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @kberkowitzthel1.

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