Saturday, January 20, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: 'Survivor' of Tampa Bay's mean streets

It's an old axiom that there are risks lurking in the shadows conspiring against us in almost every corner of our lives.

You can stumble over a rug, hit your head and die.

A tree can always fall on you. Last rites ensue.

You can buy a can of something at the grocery accidentally infused with some virus. Dead.

And then you can simply attempt to walk across the street and the next thing you know, you're chatting it up with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. Who knew?

Now it seems making it from one curb to another is an urban version of Survivor — particularly in Florida and especially in Tampa Bay, which is now second in the nation for pedestrian deaths.

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, 874 pedestrians were killed on Tampa Bay roads between 2003 and 2012 and because of the relatively low rate of walkers — just 1.6 percent of people walk to work — the "pedestrian death index" for 2008 to 2012 was the second highest in the country at 190.13.

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater lagged only behind the Orlando-Kissimmee area, with a 244.28 pedestrian death index.

In case you're curious, Boston came in dead last on the 51-metro-area list produced by NCSC, with an 18.6 pedestrian death index. While 476 people have died in that metropolitan area from 2003-12, the study said 5.3 percent of the population walks to work.

It is estimated that some 47,000 pedestrians were killed nationwide from 2003 to 2012, more deaths than occurred from natural disasters over the same period.

As a practical matter it defies comprehension that the bay area should be so hazardous to merely walk. But there may be some explanation for our dubious status. The study concluded older adults, children and minorities tend to be the more likely victims.

The elderly may suffer from cognitive disorders and can wander into a street. Children and minorities who live in neighborhoods with poorly maintained lighting, or a lack of sidewalks, can be more vulnerable.

Then there is the intangible factor of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As the report noted, fewer travel lanes and the installation of median islands, offering some small refuge from getting across a street, help reduce fatalities and injuries.

Ultimately, though, it might seem the best way to avoid meeting one's end at the front of a bumper simply because one decided to walk to the corner store for a Big Gulp would be to follow the old parental adage to look both ways, then look both ways again, and just for good measure, take another gander or two.

For after Orlando-Kissimmee and Tampa Bay, Jacksonville ranks No. 3 and Miami No. 4 in pedestrian deaths.

Why Florida? Because you don't have to live here very long to vividly grasp the notion that drivers in this state are insane, that's why.

A footnote. About halfway through writing this column I stepped out to grab some lunch. On the way back, while attempting to simply cross the street, a car started to back up in my direction in the middle of the crosswalk. Irony avoided.

Barely.

A hankering for a piece of quiche could have easily resulted in becoming one more number for the NCSC data bank solidifying Tampa Bay's rock-solid "We're No. 2!" status.

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