I read a staggering and almost unbelievable statistic from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration the other day. Did you know that in the last 15 years there have been more than 76,000 people killed while crossing or walking along streets in America? In fact, just in the last decade over 43,000 were killed, which includes 3,906 children under 16 in that death toll. If you were to average that number out, it would be equivalent to a commercial jetliner filled with people crashing every 4 weeks. Sadly, pedestrian deaths receive no such media attention which might spark enough public awareness to promote safer roads.
Although the number of children and the elderly are disproportionately higher than other groups when it comes to pedestrian deaths, people of all ages and from all walks of life have been struck down during the simple act of walking. Typically labeled as an accident, a pedestrian death is often attributable to error on the part of the motorist. Whatever way you may categorize these tragic events, just about every pedestrian death occurred along roadways that were designed and built without consideration to anyone except the driver. Most roads and streets are dangerous by their very design as they were engineered for speeding vehicles with no provision for people that are walking, in wheelchairs or on a bike.
At the center of this conundrum is the increasingly greater push for cleaner, human-powered modes of transportation to limit the negative consequences of traffic congestion, oil dependency and pollution. Over the course of the last few years, towns and cities have begun to re-build poorly designed roads to become streets with proper sidewalks and bicycle lanes, along with reducing cross-walk lengths to make it safer for pedestrians and more alluring to the general population. Safer streets have been proven to save lives not only for pedestrians and motorists, but also in the fact that they encourage residents to become more physically active and get outside to walk more.
Sadly, pedestrian death statistics will not decrease overnight. It will take much effort and public awareness to fix obsolete and unsafe road design. Perhaps, in the future our highways will become friendlier to pedestrians and allow motorist ample time to react as the smarter roads could help even the most distracted driver to be aware of someone on foot sharing the road.
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