Investigation: Arizona Pedestrian Safety

PHOENIX – is dedicating coverage to pedestrian safety in Arizona this week. We’ll explore the issue by looking at some troubling trends for pedestrian and bicyclist deaths, and also review potential causes behind them.

Arizona ranks among the worst states for pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, according to government statistics over the past several years.

Of all the states, Arizona ranked number 45 for non-motorist deaths per 100,000 residents between 2007and 2009, with 2.47, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics. The national average for non-motorist deaths over the same period was 1.72 deaths per 100,000 people.

Between those years, 479 people were killed in Arizona.

Seven non-motorists were killed in January 2011 in Phoenix alone; five were pedestrians and two were bicyclists.

“When you look at the numbers, Arizona jumps out at you,” said Former NHTSA researcher James Hedlund. “It is a state designed for vehicles, not pedestrians.”

Hedlund published a report in January with the Governor’s Highway Safety Association about pedestrian safety. The report collected preliminary pedestrian fatality data for the first six months of 2010 from all 50 states and Washington.

Hedlund found something interesting: A four-year string of decreases in pedestrian deaths may have broken in 2010.

Pedestrian fatalities in the United States actually increased by seven in the first six months of 2010, from 1,884 in the first six months of 2009 to 1,891 last year. The increase came as overall traffic fatalities continued to decrease by approximately eight percent over the same period.

While seven overall deaths isn’t large enough to indicate a meaningful increase, Hedlund said, it is still statistically important.

“It’s significant in that it’s not another decrease,” he said.

If the numbers for pedestrian deaths in the second half of 2010 are similar, it could mark the end of the four-year trend that saw pedestrian deaths decrease by nearly 200 each year, Hedlund said.

Certain groups have looked to link distracted walking to pedestrian deaths, but the data isn’t there, Hedlund said.

“Pedestrians are at fault in a large number of fatal collisions,” Hedlund said, “but there [is] no solid data to describe distracted walking. The causation studies haven’t been done yet.”

States echoed this response in Hedlund’s report with anecdotal evidence, citing some occasions of distracted pedestrians but noting that the distraction hasn’t been linked to fatalities.

Distracted or not, Arizona has had too many traffic fatalities in the past, said Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Phoenix is larger in square miles than Los Angeles, which can make walking conditions tough on pedestrians, Gutier said.

“We’re a car oriented city,” he said. “To get places, you often have to drive.”

The White House released its budget for the 2012 fiscal year in February, which included a $556 billion transportation budget, almost twice the amount of current transportation funding.

Included in the bill is a provision for $7.4 billion over the next six years to fund pedestrian safety projects.

However, the new budget is expected to receive opposition because of its size.

This has been part one of’s “Dead Ends: Pedestrian Safety in Arizona” series. Return to Monday for part two: “Arizonans at risk.”


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