Can America’s Most Dangerous Place to Walk Change Its Streets?

dangerous intersection
Good luck, pedestrians. Streets and intersections like this make Fort Myers, Florida, the most dangerous place for walking in the U.S. Photo: Google Maps via Artie Bonney

The most dangerous metro area in America for walking is Fort Myers, Florida, according to Smart Growth America’s “Dangerous by Design” report. In the last nine years, 164 pedestrians have been killed in this region of about 700,000 people.

People like Nivea Sarabia, who was killed in 2014 at age 84, trying to cross the Hancock Bridge Parkway near her home in North Fort Myers. The 45 mph road curves sharply and lacks crosswalks, reported the Fort Myers News Press. The driver in the case was not charged, because “the woman violated his right-of-way,” the paper reported.

Residents of Fort Myers are about four times more likely to be killed while walking than residents of Minneapolis. And that risk is higher among poor, elderly, black, or Latino residents.

Fortunately, Fort Myers has a committed group of reformers who have been working to address the problem. And the area has been making some strides. The advocacy organization BikeWalkLee helped secure $10 million in federal funding to redesign streets for greater safety. But the recent Dangerous by Design report shows more must be done, the organization’s leadership wrote in a column for the local paper:

The report clearly demonstrates the urgent need for increased public and private investment in pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure to make Lee County’s transportation system safer for all users. The policies are in place, and the plans are ready to go. What is needed now by all municipalities, the county, and the state is implementation — the investment of adequate funding detailed in these plans. It cannot be business as usual — safety improvements need to be on the ground as quickly as possible.

A chronic culture of danger for area walkers and bikers threatens not only residents and visitors; it undercuts our economy; threatens our ability to attract and retain businesses, workers, and families to live and work here; undermines our tourism marketing; and underlines a growing safety gap driven by socioeconomic conditions and geographic patterns.

Investments in complete streets and bike/ped strategies not only make our streets safer for all users (including motorists), they make good economic sense. Today, more and more people want to live and work in walkable communities, yet Lee County lags far behind in offering them. We know from research that sidewalks and shared use paths increase the value of homes in those neighborhoods. Bottom line: Investing in creating and maintaining walkable communities is a win/win strategy.

It’s also time for Lee County jurisdictions to focus on equity. Our most economically disadvantaged communities are the ones suffering the disproportionate share of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, yet investments don’t match the documented dangers. For example, much work has been done over the past five years with the Tice community with thorough identification of problems and community-supported recommendations to policymakers. However, to date, only small efforts have been taken by policymakers to implement and fund the changes requested by the community and needed to make this vulnerable community safer for walkers and cyclists.

More recommended reading today: Bike Portland reports on survey results from its bike-share system indicating that people are using it instead of driving. And the Natural Resources Defense Council says Trump’s pick to head the EPA is “the worst candidate ever nominated” for the position.

  • localmile

    How do Minneapolis and Fort Myers compare to Assen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, and Paris?

  • sigaba

    I’ve crossed that very intersection in the overhead photo with my mother last time I visited her in Fort Myers. It’s crazy, it seems like every large intersection outside the city center simply has no crosswalks and even major roads with heavy residential have no sidewalks, and if you’re on foot fences and barriers force you to walk right on the road pavement.

  • Kevin Barton

    Not an exact response to your question. Traffic fatality rates of all road users (not just pedestrians) in cities representing your list. Rates listed are deaths per year per 100,000 population and year of data

    Orlando, FL – 19.4 (2009)
    Minneapolis – 7.3 (2009)
    San Francisco – 4.0 (2009)
    New York – 2.8 (2015)
    Washington DC – 2.4 (2015)
    Paris – 1.7 (2015)
    London – 1.6 (2015)
    Tokyo – 1.2 (2015)
    Stockholm – 0.7 (2015)

    That should give you a feel for what is achievable.

  • Bernard Finucane

    They’d save a lot of money by making a circle out out of that intersection.

    But I guess it makes sense in a place where a bank can call itself fifth third bank with a straight face.

  • Amber Blevins

    I don’t know what it is about our area, but people do NOT know how to drive. I was crossing Hancock a few weeks ago and someone was driving down the wrong side of the road, made a wide right turn across 3 lanes, & nearly hit me. I mean added sidewalks would be great, but it doesn’t fix the crazy ass drivers on the road.
    What we need are stricter laws about speeding, DUI’s, and qualifications to carry a license. I see elderly people who’s vision is so terrible they can’t read a menu hopping into their Oldsmobile to drive home. After a certain age you should be required to pass a safety test every few years. Additional funding should also be given to transportation for the elderly like Good Wheels so they have alternatives to driving. The bus stop to my Laundromat is right in front of a bar where everyone driving off is shit faced and swerving all over the place. The police never bother to pull anyone over even though it’s less than a mile from 2 schools they just park in the median all day. The cause of many of these accidents aren’t the people walking, but drivers being impaired & nothing being done about it.

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