From the Chicago Tribune:
Walking has become more hazardous to your health. Pedestrian deaths nationwide appear to have hit their highest point in almost 30 years, a troubling spike even amid increased attention to safety.
In another disturbing twist, hit-and-run accidents, some of them deadly, are also up in Chicago and nationwide, the Tribune reports.
More than 6,200 pedestrians died in vehicle-related accidents in the United States in 2018, an increase of 50 percent from the 4,100 killed in 2009, according to projections from the Governors Highway Safety Association. Some factors are relative constants; it’s dark in 75 percent of the fatalities, and alcohol use by either driver or victim is involved about half the time.
So why the jump in this category, even as road deaths overall decline? Among the reasons:
More drivers and pedestrians are distracted by mobile phones. Deaths ticked up as surely as smartphone sales did.
Streets are designed to move cars more efficiently — aka rapidly — than ever.
More people drive SUVs, which cause greater injury than cars do at the same speed.
So yes, the typical driver is part of the problem. In the Almost-Goes-Without-Saying Department: Drivers never should text behind the wheel, should forsake speeding, shouldn’t drive recklessly. Let’s get these personal habits straight before scooters, legalized recreational marijuana and self-driving cars join the mix.
Cities need to help too. More than one-third of fatalities happen on local streets. Road designs and lighting improvements can better protect pedestrians (although not keep them from texting while ambling). Enforcing laws against jaywalking by pedestrians and sloppy turns by drivers would help, too.
Both Chicago mayoral finalists say they support pedestrian safety efforts although, yes, don’t we all. More specifically, Lori Lightfoot’s plan could include moving money into building safe streets, including better crosswalks and pedestrian islands. Toni Preckwinkle supports funding “complete streets” designed for safe use not just by cars but also pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders. We’ll be eager to hear more about those plans and how they’ll be paid for.
Chicago notched a slight improvement in the new report, dropping to 41 deaths in 2016 and 2017 from 46 in 2015. New York and Los Angeles, as well as some smaller cities including Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas, fared worse.
Chicago was slow to launch its version of Vision Zero, a global safety project that started in 1997 and spread through U.S. cities. It’s nowhere near meeting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Chicago Forward” goal of eliminating these fatalities by 2022.
New York cut pedestrian deaths dramatically under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan, which addressed speed limits, street designs and moving violations. Chicago’s plan targets infrastructure improvements as well as driver behavior including drinking, distraction, failure to yield the right of way and disobeying traffic signs. A one-year checkup on the plan found some new efforts in motion, but it was too early to judge results.
Illinois rose to 80 pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2018 from 67 in that period the year before, while Indiana and Wisconsin showed notable improvements. Indiana tended to walkways, lighting and audible signals, yet suffered a tragedy in October when a driver killed three young siblings heading to their school bus. This led to demands for enforcement of “stop arm” laws that are already on the books.
Walking, which can keep people fit and reduce use of fossil fuels, is worth encouraging. But let’s make it as safe as possible.