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

An activation switch for the lighted pedestrian crosswalk on Gulf Boulevard in Madeira Beach. Despite safety measures like this, Florida remains the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians, a study by Smart Growth America shows. [Luis Santana | Times]
Published Jan. 10, 2017

TAMPA — Florida remains the nation's most deadly state for those who journey on foot, a new report has found.

The seven most dangerous metropolitan communities for pedestrians are all in the Sunshine State, according to the Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America today.

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

The Cape Coral-Fort Myers area topped the ranking, which is based on population size, number of people who commute on foot and number of fatalities.

Florida's bad record actually represents an improvement over an earlier version of the study, reflecting state and local government efforts to make streets more bike- and pedestrian- friendly. For example, the state's "Complete Streets" initiative requires that road planners focus not only on drivers but walkers and bicyclists, too.

"Many of the communities have gotten better over time despite the fact they're at the bottom of the ranking," said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. "Communities in Florida need to keep up that good work."

The Tampa Bay metropolitan area's seventh-place ranking represents an improvement over its second-place finish in a study conducted two years ago.

Both Tampa and St. Petersburg have formally adopted plans to improve street safety, including better lighting, beacon crossings and separated bike lanes.

Examples include the addition of roundabouts and more crossings on N 34th Street in Tampa and sidewalk extensions in St. Petersburg known as "bulbouts" that slow traffic and shorten the distance to cross the road.

"We don't like getting on these bad lists, but we know what we're doing here and we think we're making progress and going in the right direction," said Jean Duncan, director of Tampa's Transportation and Stormwater Services Department.

It's not only Florida struggling with pedestrian safety. After several years when the overall number of deaths fell, fatalities nationwide have continued to rise since 2009, when roughly 4,100 pedestrians were killed on roads. By 2014, that number had risen to almost 4,900, an average of 13 fatalities every day.

Florida averaged just under 500 fatalities in a five-year period through 2013, but the number of deaths has exceeded 600 in the two years after that, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The increases may be a result of the recovering economy and cheaper gas, meaning more cars are on the road, Atherton said. Studies also suggest millennials and retiring baby boomers are walking more and using their cars less, she said.

Many fatalities are the result of decades of car-focused design that created fast-moving multilane highways with few safe crossing areas, the report states.

The most likely victims of that tend to be older, poorer and minorities, the study found.

Low-income families often don't have a car and are forced to walk. They're more likely to live in areas with poor street lighting and few sidewalks and crossing facilities, the report states.

Minorities accounted for 35 percent of the population in 2014 but made up 46 percent of pedestrian fatalities over the study period.

People 50 or older are also at higher risk of being struck and killed, the report states. That's in part because they may be more fragile and have slower reactions, said AARP Florida spokesman Dave Bruns.

"This is a sobering report by any measure," he said. "We have a big job to do in Florida, and people at state level in the transportation field recognized that several years and are starting to make progress, but it takes a long time."

Senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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