Florida has plenty of sunshine for taking long walks, but it also has the worst record in the nation when it comes to pedestrian accidents.
A new report by Transportation For America (T4), a coalition of transportation policy groups, has found that the Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville metro areas are the top four most dangerous cities for walking. Memphis, Tenn., is number five.
Using federal statistics, the report says that in the last 15 years, more than 76,000 Americans have been killed while crossing or walking along a street in their community. More than 43,000 Americans -- including 3,906 children under 16 -- have been killed this decade alone.
"This is the equivalent of a jumbo jet going down roughly every month, yet it receives nothing like the kind of attention that would surely follow such a disaster," the authors write.
Children, the elderly, and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in this figure, but people of all ages and all walks of life have been struck down in the simple act of walking, the report states.
While most of these incidents are officially listed as accidents, T4 said it sees a pattern in the overwhelming majority of these deaths.
Dangerous by design
"They occurred along roadways that were dangerous by design, streets that were engineered for speeding cars and made little or no provision for people on foot, in wheelchairs or on a bicycle," the report said.
Nine of the 10 most dangerous cities for pedestrians are in the south, and T4 says that drives home the point that design is a factor. Most of these cities developed following World War II, and their street and highway design facilitated the use of automobiles, not foot traffic.
While it is still unnecessarily dangerous for pedestrians to walk, health experts are making the case that it can be just as deadly not to walk. Even as these preventable deaths mount, there has been a growing recognition that walking and bicycling -- what many now refer to as "active transportation" are critical to increasing levels of healthy exercise and reducing obesity and heart disease.
T4 says it has become increasingly clear that these clean, human-powered modes of transportation are an essential part of efforts to limit the negative impacts of traffic congestion, oil dependency and climate change. In recent years, it notes, community after community has begun to retrofit poorly designed roads to become complete streets, adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes, reducing crossing distances and installing trees and crosswalks to make walking and biking safer and more inviting. The resulting safer streets have saved the lives of both pedestrians and motorists even as they promote health by leading many residents to become more physically active.
"There still is a long way to go to repair the damage done to communities in the past, even as we begin to shift policies and design philosophy to build streets that are safer for pedestrians and motorists alike," the authors write. "However, there are a growing number of excellent models to build on and thousands of communities eager to move forward."
The coalition says the upcoming rewrite of the nation's transportation policy presents a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to create safer streets that will be critical to keeping our neighborhoods livable, our population more fit and our nation less dependent on foreign oil.