Pedestrian vs. auto: a deadly mismatch that has cost 47,025 people their lives

By 10 a.m. Monday, two people who stepped from the curb in the nation’s capital had been struck by cars and taken to hospitals, their names added to the list of more than 720,000 pedestrians struck or killed by vehicles in the United States in the past decade.

Three hours later, safe-street advocates came out with a white paper that spelled out the national mayhem caused when flesh and bone meet two tons of metal. The pedestrians lose, big time, particularly children who are too small to see and the elderly, who are too slow to jump aside.

Hundreds of people in and around Washington are struck by cars each year, and on average about 82 are killed.

That ranks the region 35th out of 51 — better than Philadelphia, worse than Virginia Beach — by a metric the report calls “the pedestrian danger index,” a calculation that purports to show how likely a person on foot is to be killed by a car.

Washington scored a rather modest 44. Four Florida cities topped the scale, with Orlando ranking first with a 244.

“Most of our larger cities grew up after World War II when we had more of a focus on moving people in cars, so many of our roads are large,” said Billy Hattaway of the Florida Department of Transportation. “Those folks who have to walk or choose to walk, it becomes more difficult for them to navigate as a result.”

Those broad, straight boulevards that typify many newer cities and suburbs encourage fast-moving traffic.

“The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that are dangerous by design,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, which produced the study. “They’ve been engineered and operating for speeding traffic with little or no consideration for people walking, or biking, or using public transit.”

Many older cities — Washington and New York among them — had higher raw totals of pedestrians killed during the 2003-12 study period, but ranked lower by the “danger index” standard. In the District during that decade, 20 percent of all traffic fatalities were pedestrians. In New York, almost 33 percent of those killed were on foot.

The study said 47,025 pedestrians were killed in encounters with cars, about 16 times the number who died in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes during the same time frame.

Often with the help of federal funding earmarked for pedestrian and bicycle programs, the District and many other cities have begun to reconfigure crosswalks, redesign intersections and make changes to discourage speeding. The District, for example, has been installing mid-block crosswalks.

“Streets must be planned and operated for more than just speeding cars, for people walking and biking and taking public transit need safe comfortable and convenient routes to destinations as well,” Millar said.

The report came out as Congress mulls three competing bills that would fund transportation for the next four to six years. There has been suggestion by some members that federal money for pedestrian and bicycle programs should not be included so that all the spending goes to roads and bridges.

“It is a surface transportation bill for the country, it’s not an automobile bill or a truck bill,” Millar said. “When we look at transportation, it has to be looked at as a whole. Pulling a huge part of transportation out of the transportation policy of the United States doesn’t make good sense.”

Millar said 30 percent of Americans don’t drive, a number that is certain to increase as the population older than 65 doubles in the next 15 years.

“The streets in our communities are not working for older Americans,” said Nancy LeaMond, vice president of AARP. “You shouldn’t need the speed of a Major League Baseball player to safely cross our streets. We know how to design safe streets. The federal government sets the tone. We believe that Congress should address this critical issue as it renews the transportation law.”

D.C. police had little information on the two people struck by cars Monday morning. One was hit at about 8 near Vermont Avenue and L Street NW. The other was hit at Kansas Avenue and Hamilton Street NW around 10. Police said neither victim suffered life-threatening injuries.

A man who tried to cross Suitland Parkway to get to the other side of Naylor Road on Saturday was less fortunate. He was struck and killed just after 11:30 p.m.

A week earlier, Bruce Coppage, 30, was struck and killed after he walked into the path of a car on Ager Road in Hyattsville, Prince George’s County police said.

Another pedestrian died in the county May 4. Peter Kehinde Adegbite, 59, who lived on Quincy Place, had apparently walked into the path of a car in the 4500 block of Landover Road, police said.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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