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Pasco U.S. 19 tops deadly roads

U.S. 19 in Pasco County is the deadliest road in the country for pedestrians, according to a national study that ranks the Tampa Bay region among the most dangerous for walking.

"That kind of takes me by surprise" that Pasco is the worst, Port Richey police Chief Bill Downs said Wednesday.

The rankings, by the nonprofit Surface Transportation Policy Project in Washington, D.C., are based on the number of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people.

The Tampa Bay area has topped the list for the past four years. This year, it fell to second, behind Orlando.

"It's not a great distinction," said Andrea Broaddus, state and local campaign manager for the Surface Transportation Policy Project. "It means that you could be investing a lot more into protecting the safety of those daring people who are out walking and trying to get exercise into their daily routine."

A total of 22 people were killed on U.S. 19 in 2000 and 2001 in Pasco County, the study said. Between 1990 and 2000, 58 pedestrians were killed on U.S. 19 in Pasco, according to a Times analysis of state and federal data this year.

Tuesday night, an unidentified woman was struck and killed while crossing the road in Hudson around 11:30 p.m.

Most of Pasco's 18-mile stretch of U.S. 19 has no street lights. Add speeding cars and pedestrians crossing without crosswalks, and the combination is deadly, Chief Downs said.

"The pedestrian traffic is minimal as it is, but we still have a lot of pedestrians killed," Downs said.

More than half of the pedestrians killed in Pasco since 1990 have had alcohol in their systems, Downs said. He said street lights and public education could help.

"I'm happy to see (Pasco's danger) brought out," he said.

With five cities in the top 10, Florida dominated the study, titled "Mean Streets 2002."

Orlando's pedestrian fatalities increased from 52 in 2000 to 58 in 2001, while the Tampa Bay region saw 16 fewer traffic fatalities during that time.

Meanwhile, the area spent far less on pedestrian safety than the national average, the study said. The report cites Florida's urban sprawl, its propensity for four- to eight-lane streets, its speeding traffic and a lack of crosswalks and sidewalks.

"The whole development of our area is centered on the automobile," said Chris Hagelin, a research associate with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida. "There's this whole kind of trend toward urban sprawl. It creates an environment that is hostile to bikers and pedestrians."

Officials with the Surface Transportation Policy Project, which works to improve transportation in the country, said it is not a coincidence that the areas that spend the least on pedestrian safety have the most accidents. Florida spends just 1.2 percent of its transportation budget on bike and pedestrian projects, yet pedestrians account for 17 percent of traffic deaths, the study said.

The Tampa region spent 41 cents per person on bike and pedestrian projects, compared with a national average of 87 cents per person, the study said.

About $700-million in pedestrian safety funds nationwide was not used the past 10 years, said Michelle Ernst, a senior analyst with the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

"Our contention is that with this money available, especially given Tampa's pedestrian safety problem, Florida needs to focus on the problem and spend more of what's available," Ernst said.

Marian Scorza, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation in Tampa, could not say how much more or less money the agency is spending to make roads safer for pedestrians.

But she said that whenever the DOT builds a new road, it tries to add shoulders, bike lanes and sidewalks. She pointed out that the DOT has built several pedestrian overpasses on U.S. 19 and has closed several of the median openings to make the road safer.

_ Times staff writer Matthew Waite contributed to this report.

Florida pedestrians fare poorly

Here are the 10 most dangerous large U.S. metropolitan areas for walking, as ranked in the 2002 Mean Streets study.

1. Orlando

2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater

3. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton

4. Memphis

5. Jacksonville

6. Miami-Fort Lauderdale

7. Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas

8. Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.

9. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

10. Nashville, Tenn.

Source: Surface Transportation Policy Project