Why, Oh Why? Another Deadly Year for Pedestrians

Photo:  Weinstein Legal
Photo: Weinstein Legal

America’s pedestrian safety crisis isn’t going anywhere.

Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2017, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration — the second highest figure since 1990.

The highest was 2016 — meaning that the last two years have been the deadliest for walkers in our nation’s history.

The 5,977 dead pedestrians represents a 2-percent drop since 2016. But that’s the extent of the “good” news.

Pedestrian deaths overall remain 46 percent higher than they were in 2009:

Pedestrian deaths have increased nearly 50 percent since 2009. Graph: Streetsblog. Source data: NHTSA
Pedestrian deaths have increased nearly 50 percent since 2009. Graph: Streetsblog. Source data: NHTSA

It’s, frankly, outrageous, said Heidi Simon of America Walks.

“We know what works to reduce pedestrian fatalities,” she told Streetsblog, citing a need for more basic infrastructure changes such as road diets and bike lanes, in addition wider efforts to reduce speeding.

“We need the political will and the commitment to do so,” she added.

Interestingly, while fatalities declined for many groups, including 1 percent for car occupants and 8 percent for cyclists, they increased 3 percent for occupants of SUVs and for drivers of large commercial trucks they increased 18 percent.

A host of data supports the idea that the growth of SUVs has been a contributing factor in the explosive growth of pedestrian deaths. Pressure has been building on federal traffic safety organizations to use their regulatory authority to address the danger posed by SUVs. But the Trump Administration has resisted any attempt to hold automakers accountable for pedestrian safety.

Regulations targeting blind spots and other safety weaknesses in large commercial trucks have also been lacking. These vehicles are responsible for a disproportionate share of bike and pedestrian deaths. Rather than work to improve them, the Trump Administration actually rolled back new safety measures for large commercial trucks that moved forward during the Obama years.

Traffic deaths overall have been rising at a fast clip since 2014. Early data for 2018, however, is projecting a 3 percent total decline over 2017.

95 thoughts on Why, Oh Why? Another Deadly Year for Pedestrians

  1. My understanding stems from walking, biking and being nearly hit by inattentive or inconsiderate motorists almost every other day. If anything, the behavior of giving motorists the maximum amount of space in cities causes them to drive erratically, because they feel as though they can do so. There’s a giant clear area and nothing for them to feel constrained. You can get right out of here with that demeaning nonsense.

  2. Sheesh, enough with the eye contact nonsense. We’re not equipped with alarms that go off when our eyes connect with someone. There is no way of knowing that a motorist has noticed you, even if they are visibly looking in your direction, or that they even care. People tend to see through pedestrians when driving – they’re looking for big objects like other cars and road obstacles that could harm them or damage their car. Hitting people is no big deal, so why bother?

    I’ve lost count of the number of times motorists fail to yield to me crossing the street – while looking at me, as if to say “Yes, I see you and I don’t give a shit!”.

  3. If motorists are driving that fast, then the street design itself needs to be changed, not just the posted speed limit. Simply accepting the 85th percentile as law without consideration for built environment is an astounding failure of traffic engineering.

  4. Bad signal timing plays a role. Leading pedestrian intervals should be required in all urban areas. I’ve also seen T intersections that have simultaneous green left turn arrows while parallel crosswalks have a “Walk” phase. This is insanity and I’m not sure how the engineers who designed these signals still get to keep their licenses.

  5. Drivers making right turns on red collide with more pedestrians, but since they are at higher speed, those making left turns may kill more walkers. Both types of collisions occur because drivers are looking the other direction for oncoming traffic, also why salmon cycling is so dangerous. That is the purpose of my Look Twice for One Less Car graphic (too wide for a street sign or a FB icon, but perfect for a bumper sticker: viewable on my FB page Velorution2020) which shows a driver’s eye view entering an intersection with a ped to the right stepping off a sidewalk curb, and a cyclist to the left riding with traffic in the road.

    The One Less Car is to remind drivers that bikes and walking benefit them by reducing traffic and parking competition, and hopefully tone down the war mentality of many drivers, although that might be wishful thinking. All my graphic designs to improve transportation safety and understanding (including my 1981 original Share the Road 3′ separation Bike route sign -pictured), can be used for educational purposes with no charge,except with attribution this time.

  6. Don’t count on eye contact with drivers, I learned the hard way. I saw the sausage truck driver at a stop sign to my right looking at me, and believed he saw me riding legally and very visibly in bright daylight. What I didn’t understand was the cloak of invisibility shrouding me since there were no other motor vehicles in my lane. I will say that my helmet saved me from a more serious head injury that day, and in general kept my Florida sun visor from flying off.

  7. This seems to be just a tragic effect of the erosion of the social & economic capital of our outer urban/inner suburban neighborhoods that make up the new donut of despair in America. Medium population density, higher speed roads, growing population of lower income residents that walk for economic reasons. This is the most dangerous stretch of road for pedestrians in Wisconsin:


  8. mericans are increasingly choosing walking, running, and bicycling to stay active, run errands, and as an alternative to the daily drive to work—particularly when warmer weather arrives. Regrettably, as more people are leaving their cars and trucks behind, pedestrian and cyclist deaths in motor vehicle-related crashes have increased. However you get around—behind the wheel, on a bike, or on foot—you have a responsibility to share the road so we can all safely get to where we’re going.

    In 2015, motor-vehicle-related crashes claimed the lives of 5,376 pedestrians—an increase of 9 percent over the previous year—and injured an estimated 70,000 people. Deaths among bicyclists rose by 10 percent, with motor-vehicle-related crashes taking 818 lives and injuring an estimated 45,000 bicyclists.

    No one—no driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian—has sole rights to the road. It is a shared space where we all have rights and responsibilities. http://www.daisylimo.com

  9. By law, drivers must share the road with cyclists and pedestrians. But bicyclists and pedestrians have responsibilities, too. Ride and walk with safety in mind.

    Just like vehicle drivers, bicyclists must obey street signs, signals, and road markings. Always ride with traffic. Ride defensively, assuming others cannot see you. Ride attentively by never allowing yourself to be distracted by music, an electronic device, or anything else that takes your eyes off the road. Finally, avoid riding on sidewalks when possible. That protects pedestrians using the sidewalks. It also protects bicyclists because sidewalks can end abruptly, forcing them into traffic unexpectedly. If you must ride on the sidewalk do so with extra caution.

    Pedestrians should also follow the rules of the road and obey signs and signals. They’re there to protect you. Only cross streets at crosswalks when they available, as drivers and pedestrians know to look for you there. If there’s no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from vehicles as possible. If there isn’t a crosswalk, cross at a well-lit place in the road where drivers can best see you. http://www.daisylimo.com/car-service.html

  10. Agreed with a couple comments.
    Road diets are not applicable to very high volume roads.
    Any types of traffic calming on major roads may cause significant congestion & diversion to smaller less-safe streets.
    The economies of most cities depend on the efficient movement of commuters, shoppers, visitors, tourists & commercial traffic.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  11. Slower actual speeds are accomplished ONLY by degrading the roadway environment as drivers see it. Just putting lower limit signs up merely facilitates speed traps for profits.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  12. Correct, you must use engineering to lower the actual 85th percentile speeds – the signs are irrelevant. Then you must be willing to accept the possible negative results of more congestion, some diversion to smaller parallel streets that were never designed to carry the loads of the arterials & collectors, and possible loss of economic activity if enough drivers simply stop coming because of high congestion.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  13. The intersection pictured is at Las Olas Boulevard and A1A in Fort Lauderdale, former epicenter of Spring Break. This intersection and section of the beach road has been radically re-engineered and calmed down (both traffic speeds and sheer numbers of college kids) since those heydays. About 15 -20 years ago this section of the state highway was turned into a one way road going north with wide sidewalks on both sides and brick inlay crosswalks every block, and is probably as safe a pedestrian area as any in the state now. However a mile north, it reverts back to the four lane-bidirectional high speed highway it was, with scattered white line crosswalks where pedestrians cross at their own peril. That miracle mile of motorist courtesy evaporates as they speed to make up for lost time on the one way section. Motorist impatience seems to be baked into their mentality, which seems odd since they are so much faster than other modes of transportation, that a little slowdown barely affects their ETA.

  14. You say “loss of economic activity,” but there’s no proven direct causation of poor economic activity due to congestion (Exhibits: Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, D.C., every city in Europe and South America, San Francisco, on and on). In fact, quite the opposite. If there’s congestion, it means that people are still coming to access the goods and services within the area. If there is congestion, then the correct investment is in transportation choices and putting more housing within walking distance of economic centers, not shoving in more cars at faster speeds.

  15. IIRC, stats suggest that the increased after-dark death rate is linked to alcohol consumption on behalf of one or both parties (pedestrian and/or motorist).

  16. In the most dense downtowns, you could get an OK tradeoff. In areas where many people arrive from areas where transit is less practical, it may well be negative. We don’t want “faster speeds”, we want the natural speeds the roads were designed for.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  17. That’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn’t it? If the streets are designed for motorists and are hostile to pedestrians while not giving dedicated space or priority to transit, then the “natural” reaction will be to drive because that’s what is most convenient. But if it’s more difficult to drive, park, and easier to walk, bike, take transit, or simply live closer by liberalizing zoning codes, then the latter wins out.

  18. That ignores most of the drivers who find transit too inconvenient or too time consuming or simply less acceptable than the privacy of their private vehicles. If you change zoning codes FIRST and build more close-in housing of types people both like and can afford – that can change the mix. Promising to do that in the future will simply not be believed or will not be effective. And in most dense cities, more single family homes with yards are almost impossible to build because the land is too expensive.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  19. I strongly disagree. Building density without transit to anchor it creates mobility chaos and, historically, the transit has come first (example: Queens, New York). Transit is too inconvenient or too time consuming because we prioritize automotive travel over transit on primary corridors and city centers. Again, your prophecy is self-fulfilling. Additionally, the cities are dense *because* the land is valuable, based on proximity to job centers, regional economic health, and a myriad of other variables. I’m not sure what you’re trying to achieve with your single-family homes statement (one has to remember that, in most American cities, anything other than SFH is illegal).

  20. Many people favor time and privacy and transit loses on both. Many people will drive if possible, even when the transit stops are fairly close to both their homes and their destinations. Waiting at a transit stop in the rain, cold, snow, etc. is NOT pleasant and many people simply refuse.

    SFH is NOT the only housing, we have apartments and condos – but they are not the preferred housing types for many people.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  21. Telling that you use the word “degrading” in reference to street engineering changes that make the street better for non-motorist users.

    Your bias is showing.

  22. You’re still leaving out the fact that housing other than SFH is illegal in the majority of land area in US cities. Honestly, the “yeah but I like it” argument for continued disinvestment in transit and safe streets is a really bad one, but at least you’re honest in that it’s more about personal convenience than anything else.

  23. *transit by policy is terribly inconvenient, slow, uncomfortable, and zoning laws promote job and residential sprawl to enable automotive dependence*

    “See, the market says that driving is preferable!”

    Not a good look.

  24. If a street has an 85th speed of XX mph because 85% feel safe and comfortable up to about XX mph and you want the 85th speed to be XX minus 10 mph — then you have to degrade the roadway environment AS SEEN BY DRIVERS so that 85% now feel safe and comfortable only at speeds up to about XX minus 10 mph. That works: it eliminates the idea of for-profit speed traps; enforcement will not be needed; and it can be expensive. It also may cause congestion and diversion issues that are real problems in some areas.

    And, yes, there is properly a bias on main collector & arterial streets – the ones designed for the heavy commuter, shopper, tourist, visitor and commercial traffic. Choking those down may have real negative consequences. Society could prevent the vast majority of pedestrian fatalities if there were a fail-safe way to limit travel speeds on all vehicles to 10 mph. The damage to commerce would be completely unacceptable, but the pedestrian fatality rate would be extremely low.

    Engineering in cities is a balance between safety and moving vehicles efficiently – a fact some people refuse to acknowledge.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  25. Zoning and housing purchases usually AND SHOULD follow what the people want – not what government planners want.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  26. Soooo…artificially constraining urban housing markets for the sake of increasing personal wealth, restricting rights on what can be done with high-value property, and exacerbating socioeconomic stratification is a good thing? It also dramatically increases commuting distances, but that benefits you because it means that people would be essentially required to drive by policy.

    You just argued for market choices in housing but also argue against them in the same breath.

  27. I live in an area that is entirely single family homes. If you were in control, would I have to accept a corporation buying 3 adjacent lots and building a multi-story 30 unit apartment or condo complex? I think you would find fierce public opposition.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  28. (1) The fact that you previously used “degrade” with no qualifier shows one of your biases (it’s called “windshield perspective”).
    (2) The fact that you are now equating slowing down motorists with degrading the street for them shows another of your biases.

    Everyone has biases, of course. But you should stop hiding behind a pseudoscientific facade of impartiality and frankly own up to yours. Otherwise, no intelligent person can take you seriously.

  29. I am just stating facts. Example: If a main collector or arterial street was designed to carry high volumes of traffic with drivers feeling safe and comfortable at speeds up to about 40 mph and you change it so they now feel safe and comfortable only at speeds up to about 30 or 25 mph – you HAVE degraded the road environment AS SEEN BY THE DRIVERS. That is fact.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  30. If the demand is there and the land values are high enough to necessitate sharing the costs, yes. They should absolutely be able to do that. You have rights to what you do with your own property. You don’t have rights to dictate what others can do with theirs.

  31. The greatest irony here is that you openly berate “government planners” but that’s exactly who keeps your single-family house neighborhood exclusively single-family. You’re okay with government planning so long as it suits your ideology and keeps other people out of your neighborhood.

  32. Getting voters to make such changes in zoning would be a lost cause in most areas. Homeowners vote and would say no.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  33. Zoning rules almost always follow what the voters want.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  34. Zoning rules started off a good-intentioned but rapidly became a tool for racial and socioeconomic segregation, which persists to this day. Zoning should be for the public good, not so landowners can make a buck off of exclusion.

  35. Additionally, most zoning laws haven’t been changed en masse since the 1960s-70s, so which voters support this? Do renters not vote? The “this is democracy” argument you make is in extraordinarily bad faith.

  36. Overall zoning is often the subject of public hearings and a change as drastic as putting apartment/condo buildings in established and successful single family home neighborhoods would create a firestorm without public debate.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  37. We have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” —- NOT one “of the planners, by the planners, and for the planners”.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  38. I don’t know about where you live, but zoning changes are often in the news and up for debate in my area. Citizens have a meaningful input – directly and indirectly through boards.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  39. I am glad we can close this particular discussion with a clear agreement on the facts.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  40. But, throughout this discussion, you’ve continuously supported restricting property rights and giving landowners disproportionate power and supported exclusionary practices, which is the antithesis of a government for the people.

  41. I don’t know about where you live, but citizen-voters have a lot of influence in zoning. Putting large complexes of apartments or condos in most single family home neighborhoods would be a non-starter in the zoning discussions.

    We have a mayor that is trying to ram down some unpopular projects, and he is getting fierce opposition.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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