A pedestrian is far likelier to die in Tampa Bay than in New York City. The numbers don’t lie. In fact, it’s not even close. So far this year, 95 pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. New York had 72 through Aug. 1. Account for the Big Apple’s much larger population and Tampa Bay residents are dying more than three times as often. Three times.
New York City is so worried about its problem that it just got special permission to operate its 2,000 speed cameras 24/7 to try to stem the problem. Florida? A bill that would have allowed speed cameras in school zones was withdrawn this past spring. To be clear, this isn’t about speed cameras, which would be unpopular and certainly wouldn’t fix much by themselves. It’s about committing to solve the problem, whatever the solutions are. We need to keep pedestrians safe along Tampa Bay’s dangerous roads. And we’re not very good at it.
In fact, Tampa Bay is the fourth-deadliest metro area for pedestrians in the nation, according to the latest Dangerous by Design report. The report accounts for factors that people use to explain away our high death rates. In short, it’s not because we have nice weather or more people walking. Our pedestrian fatality rate is 3.55 per 100,000 residents, a deadly embarrassment. Just days ago, three pedestrians were killed in separate incidents within a few hours. The problem is frustratingly simple: Our roads are too dangerous to cross. They are straight, wide and fast. They are designed to move cars as quickly as possible, and pedestrians — literally — get in the way.
But it’s also a mindset. Tampa Bay is a car culture. Drivers are impatient and, increasingly, distracted, especially by their smartphones. Where crosswalks do exist, too many drivers act like it’s a courtesy rather than the law to yield to pedestrians. And, yes, some pedestrians cross where they shouldn’t, but if a crosswalk or intersection is far away, what options do they really have?
It’s getting worse. Tampa Bay, fourth deadliest now, was ranked only eighth most dangerous last year, according to Dangerous by Design. No metro wants to rise to the top of this chart, and there is no quick fix, but there are solutions that would chip away at the mayhem and deaths. Speed cameras in school zones seem like a no-brainer. So is better lighting on roads to allow drivers to actually see pedestrians in the dark. (The three recent deaths were all before dawn.) It would also help to design roads to psychologically slow drivers down — narrower lanes, crosswalk curbs that jut out into the roadway and the like.
But the basic fact remains. They are pedestrians, not impediments. Pedestrian safety bills shouldn’t die in the Legislature while so many Floridians die walking our streets. In the “free state of Florida,” why don’t we care more about the freedom to safely cross the road?
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.