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Study: Fatal car-pedestrian accidents up by 11 percent since 2015

"We prioritize the mobility and speed of motor vehicles over safety," says a senior researcher at the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center in Chapel Hill.

Two studies over the last year have sounded the alarm for pedestrian safety. A Governor's Highway Safety Association report found that, for people walking near traffic, 2016 was the deadliest year in the past two decades. A January report by the nonprofit Smart Growth America found a disturbing trend: minorities are much more likely to die in pedestrian accidents than whites.

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center reported on a similar trend last year, blaming many pedestrian accidents on poorly designed or inadequate pedestrian and bicycle facilities, especially in low-income, immigrant and minority communities.

Alarming growth in fatal pedestrian accidents may relate to infrastructure investment

According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association, there were 5,997 pedestrians killed in traffic crashes last year -- 11 percent more than in 2015. Unfortunately, that appears to be part of a trend. Between 2006 and 2015, pedestrian fatalities grew by 12 percent even though other traffic fatalities had decreased by 18 percent. Deaths of pedestrians now make up 15 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents.

It's true that both drivers and pedestrians are sometimes at fault in these crashes. The recent research, however, indicates that poor highway engineering and lack of investment in infrastructure development in lower-income areas are responsible for many deaths.

"Streets without sidewalks or pedestrian crossings, with wide lanes that encourage people to drive fast are simply designed to be dangerous for people walking," says Smart Growth's report. "This is not user error. Rather, it is a sign that these streets are failing to adequately meet the needs of everyone in a community."

Economic and racial disparities in pedestrian deaths shockingly high

The Smart Growth study's findings on economic and racial disparities were stark and echoed an earlier white paper by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, which found that minorities, immigrants and other lower-income folks are "less likely to live near or travel along roads with safe, accessible, and high-quality pedestrian and bicycle facilities."

Smart Growth's report, "Dangerous by Design," showed that Hispanics have a 50-percent higher rate of pedestrian deaths than whites. African-Americans have die at nearly twice the rate of whites. Low-income urban communities were much more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists than affluent suburban ones.

"Budgets are tight at nearly every department of transportation, and there are usually far more projects than time or money allow," says SmartGrowth. "So DOT staff have to make tough choices about what to prioritize, and it's not surprising that communities without political clout don't rise to the top of the list."

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