For the second time this year, the Tampa Bay area has earned the dubious distinction of being among the most deadly places for pedestrians in the nation. As bay area leaders craft proposals to improve public transportation, they should make sure that pedestrian safety is a prominent, well-funded part of all plans. Installing more crosswalks, improving street lighting and decreasing speed limits, especially in poor neighborhoods, are good places to start.
Governing magazine examined metropolitan areas with at least 1 million residents and found that Florida is home to four of the top five areas with the highest per capita pedestrian death rates in the nation. According to the study released earlier this month, the Tampa Bay area recorded the nation's highest pedestrian fatality rate, with 403 deaths in a five-year-period. A separate national study released in May presented an equally grim portrait of pedestrian safety in the bay area, ranking it as the second most-dangerous place in the country for walkers behind Orlando.
Both studies indicate a statewide problem. Children, the elderly and minorities are most vulnerable to pedestrian injuries, research shows. And residents of poor neighborhoods, which are often home to large numbers of pedestrians and major arterial roads and highways, fare worst of all. Those arterial streets typically have speed limits north of 40 mph, multiple lanes of traffic and few traffic lights and crosswalks. The problem is particularly acute on arterial roads such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street in St. Petersburg and Tampa's Hillsborough Avenue, where retail and housing line the thoroughfares and many residents do not have cars.
Transportation officials around the country have been working for several years to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries. In Florida, the Department of Transportation released a safety plan for pedestrians and cyclists last year that emphasizes public education and improvements, including installing street lighting and traffic calming devices such as roundabouts and illuminating crosswalks. These are all positive suggestions that warrant government investment. But despite the state's efforts, the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries remain high. And there is fresh evidence in the bay area of the need for intervention. Just last week, two pedestrians were killed in separate incidents in New Port Richey. Another man was struck and killed by a car in Tampa early Monday.
Government officials cannot shoulder the burden of making streets safer alone. Pedestrians and drivers also should take responsibility. Pedestrians should always use crosswalks, which helps secure their own safety and sets a good example for children. Drivers should rid themselves of distractions and focus on navigating vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Just as teaching the public to use seat belts took time, changing a culture that puts cars before pedestrians and cyclists also will require great work. But decreasing the number of pedestrian injuries and deaths is well worth the effort.