Pedestrian deaths are up. What do we do? | Editorial

It will take a combination of urban planning, enforcement and driver awareness to reverse the trend.
A pedestrian uses a lighted, mid-block crosswalk on Fourth Street N near 20th Avenue N in St. Petersburg.
A pedestrian uses a lighted, mid-block crosswalk on Fourth Street N near 20th Avenue N in St. Petersburg.
Published November 8

St. Petersburg has had more pedestrians killed this year than homicides. This troubling trend is also reflected in national statistics: 2018 saw the highest number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed in the United States since 1990. While encouraging more walkers and bikers is commendable and creates a more sustainable transportation system, their safety is paramount. This is a community issue more than a law enforcement issue, and better safety will require more vigilance by drivers, walkers and bikers alike.

From January to October in 2018, seven pedestrians were killed in fatal crashes while walking on the streets of St. Petersburg. What’s more frightening is that double that number—14 pedestrians —have already been killed in the city this year. The Tampa Bay area has long been known as one of the country’s most dangerous places to be a pedestrian or a bicyclist. Pedestrian fatalities in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties still make up a large portion of total traffic crash deaths. In the first six months of this year, crashes involving pedestrians only made up about 2.6 percent of all vehicle-involved crashes in Pinellas and Hillsborough, but pedestrian fatalities made up 32 percent of all deaths from car crashes. Less than 1 percent of all traffic crashes resulted in deaths, while almost 9 percent of all pedestrian crashes resulted in death.

Nationally, the numbers aren’t any better. An average of 17 pedestrians and two bicyclists were killed in crashes every day in America in 2018, reports The New York Times. The number of pedestrians killed rose by 3.4 percent to 6,283 walkers last year, even though the number of traffic deaths went down. That’s what is so worrisome about these numbers. Pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities are rising as other traffic crash-related deaths decline.

St. Petersburg is not unaware. In May, the City Council approved a 20-year “Complete Streets” program that would add more crosswalks, bike lanes and other safety methods to streets around the city. The city has already added wide bike lanes to major thoroughfares, like those on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N between 4th and 30th Avenues N, which has been controversial. At the same time, the St. Petersburg Police Department recently received a contract for almost $80,000 to “conduct specialized traffic enforcement" focused on bicyclist and pedestrian safety from October to May. It will take multiple approaches to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safer.

As cities such as St. Petersburg continue to create neighborhoods and urban cores that encourage walking and biking, the design of public spaces and the approach of law enforcement should continue to evolve. Pedestrian deaths have to go down. The vigilance of drivers has to go up.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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