The good news is that none of Connecticut's metro areas rank among the nation's most dangerous places for people to walk on the roads, according to a new study of pedestrian deaths. (Trust me — you do not want to walk on the road in Orlando, or just about any major city in the entire state of Florida.)
The bad news is that the “Pedestrian Danger Index” for the Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford region ranks it as the second most hazardous area in the Northeast for getting hit by motorists, right behind Buffalo-Niagara Falls.
Philadelphia, or Providence or Boston or even New York City, according to the information compiled by Transportation for America, the nonprofit organization that authored the study.
The thrust of the “Dangerous By Design” report is that many of America's most pedestrian-killing roads were created solely for use by motorists and that transportation officials in many areas have virtually ignored the safety needs of pedestrians and cyclists. It's a theme that bicycle and pedestrian activists in this state have been sounding for years.
Georgette Yaindl, executive director of Bike Walk Connecticut, calls the Connecticut statistics in the study “absolutely awful,” despite this state's relatively safe rating on the national pedestrian danger scale. “Are our state's roads deadly by design? Absolutely.”
The report found there were 373 pedestrians killed in Connecticut from 2000 to 2009. That means one of every eight traffic fatalities in Connecticut over that span were pedestrians. Pedestrian fatality rates for Hispanics and blacks was far higher than for whites in Connecticut, according to the report, and the death rate for pedestrians over age 65 was 175 percent higher than for younger walkers.
The Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford region recorded 135 pedestrian deaths for that period, compared to 102 for the New Haven-Milford metro area, 79 for Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, and 37 for Norwich-New London.
State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, says the new report on pedestrian safety “makes it even more clear” how much Connecticut needs new legislation she is sponsoring to increase penalties for motorists who severely injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists. The bill's supporters say motorists are often given very light penalties or none at all when they get involved in serious accidents with a cyclist or pedestrian.
The problem is that legislation to help protect “vulnerable users” of Connecticut's roads has run into a serious roadblock in the General Assembly. After being approved by the legislature's Transportation and Judiciary Committees, the bill hit apparently fatal opposition from lawmakers on the Finance Committee last month.
Bye and her allies were “looking very hard” last week for a way to revive the legislation. Their hope was to find another bill they could, in the lingo of the legislature, use as a “vehicle” that they could hitch their vulnerable-users measure to as an amendment.
“We think it's really important,” says Bye. She says the bill's death at the hands of the finance panel in the closing weeks of the legislative session came as a shock. “I can't believe we lost this one,” she says.
Officials at Connecticut's Department of Transportation declined to comment last week on either the “Dangerous By Design” report or the legislation to provide more protection for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Bye's bill would require driver re-education, plus other penalties that could include community service and fines of up to $5,000 for drivers who maim or kill a pedestrian or a bicyclist.
The legislation's critics warned that the bill could end up penalizing motorists in accidents where the pedestrian or cyclist was at fault.
Yaindl says there's often “a presumption of guilt that attaches to a pedestrian or cyclist” who gets hit by a car or truck. “Law enforcement presumes the pedestrian or cyclist is at fault.”
She says a check of some recent Connecticut accident statistics showed that 44 percent of all collisions involving motor vehicles and pedestrians were listed by police as being the fault of the pedestrians. Yaindl points out that this state already has a law on the books that allows cops to charge pedestrians who cause accidents with negligence.
Bye and Yaindl agree that Connecticut needs to do far more to make its roads safe for everyone — not just motorists. The Dangerous By Design study found that 67 percent of all Connecticut pedestrian deaths during that nine-year span happened on roads that are eligible for federal funding, money that can be used for improvements to help make the roads safer.
“Car drivers just think the roads are only for them,” says Bye, who bicycles into the state capital from her West Hartford home. “They behave that way and it makes the roads unsafe.”
Connecticut's record of 373 pedestrian deaths on the roads over nine years is ugly, but it's nothing compared to the car-pedestrian carnage that goes on in Florida.
Of the top 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians in the U.S., the top four are in Florida.
Orlando-Kissimmee has the highest pedestrian kill ratio of any place in the country, racking up 557 deaths from 2000-2009, and a Pedestrian Danger Index of 255.4. Just below it is Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, with Jacksonville in third and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach rounding out the top four.
The Pedestrian Danger Index was created in the 1990s by a transportation think tank trying to establish an apples-to-apples system for looking at different types of urban areas, some of which have lots more people walking than others. The PDI is computed by figuring in the number of pedestrian deaths with the amount of walking people do in that metropolitan area.
Ya-Ting Liu, the federal advocate for the New York-based Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says Florida's appalling pedestrian death rates are the result of decades of “transportation planning that failed to consider people on foot, on bicycles or in wheelchairs” when designing roadways.
The New York City area had the highest number of pedestrian fatalities for the period studied, with 3,485, but its PDI was only 30.4 because so many people in the region walk on the roads so often.
Connecticut pedestrian and bicycling advocates say this state's DOT has been doing somewhat better in recent years in trying to improve road safety for non-motorized users.
“There's been some improvement at DOT,” says Bye. “A little, but not a lot. We're still so road-centric.”
Why Do The Designs Of Our Roads Consistently Ignore The Safety Needs Of Pedestrians?
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