As the recession took hold, fewer Americans had jobs to drive to, and others saved gas money and took the bus. Fewer drivers on the road meant fewer pedestrian deaths.
As the economy recovered, Americans spent more time on the road, and motorists started killing pedestrians at a pre-recession pace.
That simplified, gruesome summary reflects a new study from Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes walkable cities, which reports that 4,884 U.S. pedestrians were killed in 2014, the last year for which data are available. That’s the highest number since 2005 and a 19 percent increase from 2009, when the recession ended.
Among the report’s other alarming findings: The elderly, the poor, and non-white pedestrians are disproportionately likely to be killed in a traffic accident.
Eight of the 10 cities where pedestrians are at the greatest peril are in Florida, according to Smart Growth America’s Pedestrian Danger Index, which compares the number of traffic fatalities with census data on the number of people in each metropolitan area who walk to work. They include Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville, the second-, third-, and fourth-biggest cities in the state. Miami, Florida’s largest city by population, was the 11th most dangerous among the 104 biggest metros.
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Why are Florida’s metropolitan areas the most dangerous? It doesn’t help that the state’s population growth took off in the post-World War II boom, when planners high on the fumes of unleaded gasoline dreamed up urban places that prioritized cars over people. But cities in all parts of the country have wide roads without enough safe places to cross.
Part of the answer is demographics, said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
“In a city like Seattle, high-income people are out on the streets, and walking is almost looked at as a luxury activity,” she said, adding that wealthier pedestrians have been more successful at advocating for safer streets. In states like Florida, “the people who are walking are doing it because they have to, not because they want to.”