Florida ‘most dangerous’ state in nation for pedestrians
A brand new report from Smart Growth America ranked Florida as the most dangerous state in the United States for pedestrians and cyclists.
The 2021 Dangerous by Design Survey ranks the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area as the 11th most dangerous place, with Orlando taking the top spot.
The report comes on the heels of a WINK News investigation that found more people died while walking or riding a bike in Lee County in 2020 than riding a motorcycle.
“A lot of our local roads don’t have sidewalks and probably never will once we start talking about the cost of it,” said Don Scott, the executive director of the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Scott said that in the past decade, the MPO has completed several street projects and retrofitted many parts of the county with pedestrian and cyclist safety in mind.
Southwest Florida’s ranking is an improvement over the past five years, down from the number one spot in 2016.
But according to Smart Growth America, sidewalks and crosswalks alone cannot fix the problems they see with the design of many streets in Florida.
“We put more priority on the convenience of car travel than we do on human life,” said Beth Osborne, the director for Transportation for America, Smart Growth’s transportation arm.
During a media presentation Tuesday, Osborne showed diagrams with wide turning lanes that encourage drivers to speed through an intersection with a crosswalk.
“We are putting drivers in a position where they’re told to speed up and slow down at the same time. And then when they make a mistake, inevitably because they have been purposefully confused by the design, we blame the driver or we blame the person crossing the street,” she said.
A WINK News investigation of crash data for Lee County from 2020, found that drivers were going at least 20 mph in 85 percent of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists.
But the Florida Department of Transportation said Smart Growth’s report inaccurately portrays the safety conditions of Florida’s roadways.
“The report compares states and metropolitan areas across the nation, but does not take into account important geographic and demographic nuances, resulting in a one-size-fits-all methodology for the assessment,” said FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault, P.E, in an emailed statement.
FDOT said the Governors Highway Safety Association report is a more accurate account and uses official data from each state. FDOT also pointed to several other factors that contribute to pedestrian fatalities, such as weather conditions and the amount of time people spend walking.
Scott said he disagreed with Smart Growth’s approach that fixing the design will resolve the problem. He believes that pedestrians and cyclists can be part of the solution by paying better attention to their surroundings and making sure they are wearing visible clothing.
“I know that document says forget that work on the design side of it, but what they’re talking about, some of the things they put in there, I don’t envision that we could ever get here because of how many streets we already have that are built that are straight. that are flat,” said Scott.
He added that drivers need to put down their phones and pay attention to what’s in front of them.
FDOT also said in an emailed statement that it “elevated bicycle and pedestrian safety to its highest priority” in the fall of 2011. This included a complete street plan that included revising guidance and standards.
“It is the policy of FDOT to routinely plan, design, construct, reconstruct, and operate a context-sensitive system of streets in support of safety and mobility,” wrote communications director Beth Frady.
Frady declined to make anyone from FDOT available for an interview.