Oklahoma Officials: Why Bother Trying to Prevent Pedestrian Deaths?

As long as her granddaughter can remember, Tulsa resident JoAnn Carlson never drove a car. Even at age 80, Carlson would walk to work from her apartment near St. John’s hospital.

JoAnn Carlson was struck by a hit-and-run driver on her way home from dinner in December. She died a week later. Image: KJRH Tulsa

She was walking home from dinner in December when she was struck by a speeding driver. The perpetrator never stopped. JoAnn, who suffered 27 broken bones in the collision, died one week later in the hospital.

Tulsa is one of 22 cities recently targeted by the Federal Highway Administration for pedestrian safety grants. In 2011, eight pedestrians were killed in the city of 400,000, making it among the most dangerous places to walk in the U.S., according to FHWA.

Josie Carlson, JoAnn’s granddaughter, says the problem is systemic.

“We’re not walkable in Tulsa,” Carlson told Streetsblog. “It’s the motorists’ attitude toward pedestrians. You’ll see pedestrians waiting at a crosswalk and car after car will go through.”

But the state of Oklahoma doesn’t seem too concerned about families like the Carlsons. The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office has elected not to throw its hat in the ring for one of the U.S. DOT’s new “Everyone is a Pedestrian” grants, which only the 22 target cities can apply for. State officials think the grant application is not worth the effort.

“I simply just don’t have the staff to take on this additional grant,” Garry Thomas, director of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, told local NBC affiliate KJRH. He said the city would only be eligible for less than $100,000 per year (but that assumes the money would be spread across 22 cities when it would actually be divided only among six). The U.S. DOT grant would award $2 million, selecting up to six recipients from the 22 “focus cities.”

Thomas told KJRH that “reducing DUI’s is the top priority for his office as more Oklahomans are killed by drunk drivers than die in pedestrian-related crashes.”

Stephen Lassiter, a local pedestrian advocate, says he’s disappointed with the decision.

“It’s almost as if the safety office is saying ‘Hey Tulsa, your pedestrians aren’t worth our time,’” Lassiter told KJRH. “Is pedestrian safety in Tulsa worth the safety office’s time? We believe it is.”