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2017 still a deadly year for Tampa Bay pedestrians, bicyclists

Hillsborough County deputies investigate a fatal pedestrian crash that killed two adults in November and sent a third to the hospital. The Tampa Bay region remained a deadly one for pedestrians and bicyclists in 2017. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Jan. 12, 2018

Another year gone, another year that Tampa Bay was one of the most dangerous places in the country for those walking or riding their bikes.

More than 100 people were killed walking in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in 2017, according to state data.

In addition, 22 bicyclists died last year.

Those unofficial numbers are fairly consistent with Tampa Bay's history of being several times more deadly for pedestrians than its peer metro areas.

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Officials are still waiting for 2017 results, but several studies routinely rate Florida's metropolitan areas, including Tampa Bay, as the most unsafe state for those who don't move around in a car.

Back in 2016, the seven most dangerous metro communities for pedestrians were all in the Sunshine State, according to the annual Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America.

That included the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, which was ranked seventh with 821 pedestrians killed over a 10-year period through 2014.

The numbers didn't change much from 2016 to 2017. Pinellas County saw a small drop, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. State numbers said 44 people were killed while walking in Pinellas in 2016, with that number dipping to 34 in 2017. Bicyclist deaths rose from 2 to 4 in the same time period.

However, Hillsborough County — the most deadly county in the region — saw identical numbers in 2016 and 2017, according to the state. In both years, a total of 50 pedestrians and 12 bicyclists were killed.

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While Tampa Bay routinely hovers in the top 10 most dangerous cities for walking and biking. Peter Hsu, a safety engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation local office, did notice a new trend this year: about a third of pedestrian and bicyclists killed statewide in 2016, the most recent year of data, were intoxicated.

"That number really shocked me," Hsu said. "We try to do these improvements. We do a lot of education, a lot of enforcement. But it's a social issue, a human behavior issue. And that's harder."

Forward Pinellas executive director Whit Blanton, the county's transportation planning agency, said Pinellas definitely struggles with intoxicated pedestrians.

"They walk right out of the bar and into the street," Blanton said "You almost can't engineer that. How do you fix that?"

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: PEDESTRIAN, BIKE SAFETY

Hillsborough County set deadly new record for pedestrian fatalities in 2015

Hillsborough saw fewer pedestrian deaths in 2016, but Tampa Bay still dangerous for walking and biking

Florida home to seven most dangerous regions for pedestrians, study shows

There are a whole host of factors contributing to pedestrian deaths, including high speeds on area roads and limited cross walks. Hillsborough's Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden, who oversees that county's transportation planning, specifically noted that poor lighting is a major factor in pedestrian deaths.

In Hillsborough, she said the county, cities, state and Tampa Electric have partnered on initiatives to improve lighting along roadways and crosswalks.

"They're actively out there right now working on lighting projects, and that will help," Alden said. "But the aggressive driving and the expectation of driving 40 mph and up in the center of our city, that requires a culture change."

Alden was not disheartened by the fact that Hillsborough's numbers did not drop at all, despite concerted efforts to bolster pedestrian safety. That's because the county has more drivers than ever before, the result of an improving economy and more people moving to the area.

"We're facing kind of an uphill battle," she said. "It's great that the economy is coming along, but more people on the roads means more crashes, just statistically."

One unmistakable rising contributor to serious crashes is distracted driving, Blanton said. In the age of technology, it seems everyone is glued to their phone. And that includes when they driving, walking or biking.

"It's a hard thing to report, because there's not always evidence of it," Blanton said. "But we're seeing a much greater incidence of distracted driving being a primary or secondary cause of a crash."

Blanton recalled a bicyclist who was riding on Ulmerton Road a few months ago, using the bike lane and wearing a reflective vest. He was struck from behind and killed.

"He was doing everything right," Blanton said, "and then the car driver said he didn't see him"

It's not just drivers, either. Last month, a 41-year-old woman was hit by a car and killed while using her phone as she tried to cross 49th Street N, according to Pinellas Park police.

Witnesses told investigators that Danielle Harb of St. Petersburg was looking at her cell phone as she crossed the road and was not paying attention to her surroundings when the car hit her around 6:40 a.m.

"We walk around with smart phones in our hands, we drive around with devices in our car," Blanton said. "We're tethered to them as humans these days, and it's getting more and more dangerous."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: TRANSPORTATION

Creating one transportation planning agency for all of Tampa Bay won't be easy (May 12, 2017)

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Depend on a HART bus to get around? Life could get harder. (Oct. 6, 2017)

The Cross Bay Ferry won't come back this fall. What about 2018? (Nov. 10, 2017)

Express lanes set to open on Veterans. They're free — for now. (Dec. 8, 2017)

Traffic solution in the sky, or just pie-in-the-sky? (Jan. 5, 2017)

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