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More and more pedestrians being killed on America’s roadways

A pedestrian was hit by at least one vehicle on the morning of Feb. 27, 2019, shutting down I-285 West near Spaghetti Junction and leading to hours of delays in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.
A pedestrian was hit by at least one vehicle on the morning of Feb. 27, 2019, shutting down I-285 West near Spaghetti Junction and leading to hours of delays in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The number of national pedestrian deaths reached its highest level since 1990 last year, and state after state is projected to see fatalities increase in 2019, according to new data.

What it means

Ten years ago, 4,109 pedestrians died. The number has risen virtually every year since, and last year, the death toll was up 3.4% to 6,283. Pedestrian fatalities in urban areas are up 69% during the last 10 years.

Nighttime fatalities were up 4.6% from 2017 to 2018. Pedestrian deaths in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes increased by 2.2%.

Projections in 25 states are that the carnage will get worse this year than the targets they set for last year, according to data compiled by nonpartisan advocacy groups Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.

“In fact,” the study found, “we are continuing to design streets that are dangerous for all people. Furthermore, federal and state policies, standards, and funding mechanisms still produce roads that prioritize high speeds for cars over safety.”

The Georgia angle

Pedestrian traffic fatalities in Georgia jumped by nearly one-third in the first half of last year, far outpacing the increase nationally, a February study showed.

More than 130 pedestrians died on Georgia roads in the first six months of 2018, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a national group that studies traffic safety issues. That’s up 32% from the first half of 2017.

»RELATED: Georgia sees spike in pedestrian deaths

After several pedestrian and scooter-related deaths and injuries this summer, Atlanta City Council's transportation committee last month requested the city planning department conduct a study evaluating the city's speed limits in an effort to make streets safer.

Florida is regarded as the most dangerous state for pedestrians, according to a study by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.

»RELATED: Pedestrian struck by car, killed in Clayton County

It tops the study’s 2019 “pedestrian danger index,” while eight of the nine most perilous cities in the country for pedestrians are in Florida. Next are Alabama, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia. Texas is eighth, and California ranks 14th.

Why it matters

While there is no single agreed-upon reason for the rise in pedestrian deaths, experts routinely cite a number of factors, including drivers distracted by phone use and their car’s gadgets, bigger, faster highways, larger vehicles and more people walking and bicycling in urban areas.

“It’s a combination of people getting out more, having healthier lifestyles and moving more into urban areas,” said Shaun Kildare, director for research at the nonpartisan Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

“There is no single reason or solution to the growing number of pedestrian deaths in California and across the country. We wish it were that simple to address and reverse the trend,” added Timothy Weisberg, spokesman for California’s Office of Traffic Safety.

What’s being done

The government has a wide range of programs aimed at making roads safer. The 4-year-old special pedestrian and bicycle safety promotion program is authorized to spend $70 million during a five-year period that ends in the next fiscal year. So far it’s spent $42 million.

While the program was designed to allow states to focus on the growing problem, safety advocates see it as too limited in what it can do. States can only use the money for a certain number of activities, such as training law enforcement officials about pedestrian and bicycle laws and public education programs.

»RELATED: Police ID pedestrian in wreck that shut down I-285 in Cobb for hours

But critics charge that the program aimed at making roads, intersections and driver behavior safer for pedestrians are underfunded, while most of the transportation-related money goes to road and bridge construction and repair.

The budget approved this week by the Senate Appropriations Committee would provide $49 billion in highway aid during the current fiscal year. Its House counterpart approved roughly the same amount, as well as $1 billion for the safety administration. The overall transportation budget also includes other safety-related funding.