As pedestrian deaths climb across U.S., a safety campaign hopes to curb the trend

The pedestrian death rate jumped 21% last year, despite a decrease in miles driven


By Erik Bascome
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

NEW YORK — As the number of pedestrian deaths continues to rise both nationally and right here in New York City, transportation safety organizations are urging states to implement concrete solutions and remind drivers to exercise caution around the most vulnerable road users.

In an effort to highlight this growing issue, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), as well as the Governors Highway Safety Association, have announced that October has been dubbed National Pedestrian Safety Month.

"We all can and must do more to make sure people feel safe when they are walking, whether it's to work, to school or to a transit stop," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "Everyone deserves to have safer streets and more walkable communities."

Earlier this year, the GHSA released a report, Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State, analyzing the troubling trend of rising pedestrian fatalities in recent years.

In 2020, there were a projected 6,721 pedestrian deaths across the country, representing a 4.8% increase from the 6,412 killed in 2019, according to report.

The increase becomes particularly concerning when considering the fact that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased by 13.2% in 2020, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic restricted travel and left many confined to their home for much of the year.

As a result of the rising fatalities, coupled with the decline in miles driven, the pedestrian death rate jumped 21% last year, from 1.9 pedestrian fatalities per billion VMT to 2.3 pedestrian fatalities per billion VMT, the largest annual increase in pedestrian death rate ever recorded.

"The spike in pedestrian fatalities in recent years is unacceptable," said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. "Nobody should have to worry about dying while walking. Vehicles are safer than ever for occupants, thanks to design changes and new safety features, but the same can't be said for people on foot."

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In addition to the nationwide trend, the number of pedestrian fatalities has also been surging here in New York City, with the five boroughs recently experiencing the deadliest six-month span for pedestrians in recent history.

A recent report from Transportation Alternatives, one of the city's leading safe streets advocacy groups, found that 64 pedestrians lost their life on New York City streets from Jan. 1 through Jun. 30, the most of any first six months of the year under Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration.

Since then, the number of pedestrian deaths in New York City has continued to rise, according to NYPD traffic data.

In July, an additional eight pedestrians lost their life on New York City streets, bringing the total to 72.

Then in August, there were nine more pedestrian deaths, increasing the citywide total to 81 through the first eight months of the year.

Detailed traffic fatality data for September is not yet available.

STATEN ISLAND PEDESTRIAN DEATHS

The rising number of pedestrian fatalities hits close to home for many Staten Islanders, with the borough already experiencing four pedestrian fatalities so far in 2021.

The first of Staten Island's four pedestrian fatalities occurred in January at Bay Street and Canal Street, where a walker was killed, with distracted driving cited by officials as a contributing factor.

The second occurred later that month at Fingerboard Road and Narrows Road South, where 52-year-old Miao Ling Kuan was struck and killed by a Con Edison vehicle at the busy Grasmere intersection during morning rush hour.

The victim, who was found underneath the truck, suffered severe head trauma and died at the scene, according to the NYPD.

The third pedestrian fatality occurred in March, when a 75-year-old man, later identified as Douglas Carson, was struck while walking on Martling Avenue around the corner from his home.

Carson was struck crossing Martling, between Manor Road and Slosson Avenue — a long stretch of road where there are no crosswalks. The crash involved a 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, which was driven by an 81-year-old woman, police said.

The fourth pedestrian fatality occurred in May, when a 62-year-old woman died after being struck by a car while crossing a busy intersection in New Dorp.

The woman, identified by police as Hongyou Huang of Grant City, was pronounced dead at Staten Island University Hospital in Ocean Breeze following the crash at Tysens Lane and Hylan Boulevard.

Huang was crossing despite a "don't walk" symbol being illuminated, and no criminality is suspected at this time, according to a police spokesman.

INSURIFY STUDY

Additionally, a recent report from Insurify Insights, the research branch of an online car insurance site, named Staten Island the deadliest place in the country for pedestrians.

Researchers analyzed over 4 million insurance applications to determine which metro areas are the most dangerous for pedestrians in the United States.

Staten Island ranked first, with all boroughs but Queens ranking within the top 10.

Insurify researchers looked at millions of the insurance applications and calculated the proportion of drivers in each metro area who have received one or more citations for failure to yield to pedestrians.

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While many studies on pedestrian safety tend to use the number of fatalities as their primary statistic, Insurify claims that analyzing driving behavior may be a better indicator of safety.

"Typically resulting from a tragic set of circumstances, pedestrian fatalities encompass a small fraction of the cases when drivers endanger pedestrians," according to the study. "It stands to reason that they do not paint the whole picture of pedestrian safety. On the other hand, citation rates for failing to yield to a pedestrian represent a more widespread pattern of behavior, providing a better understanding of the kind of driver to expect on the roads in a given area."

The national average across all metropolitan areas in the country showed that 4.86 out of every 10,000 drivers have been cited for failing to yield to pedestrians.

On Staten Island, 53.6 out of every 10,000 drivers was cited for failing to yield to pedestrians, 11 times the national average.

NATIONAL PEDESTRIAN SAFETY MONTH

In an effort to buck the trend of rising pedestrian deaths throughout the country, the NHTSA will roll out four, themed public awareness campaigns throughout National Pedestrian Safety Month.

"Our roads and streets must be safe and feel safe for pedestrians, so that they can get to their destinations safely and seamlessly," said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack.

The first campaign, running from Oct. 4 through Oct. 11, is titled "Everyone Is a Pedestrian," and focuses on how states and localities can encourage walking by creating a safer pedestrian environment in their communities.

The second, "Safe Speed Saves Lives," will run from Oct. 11 through Oct. 15, reminding drivers that the risk of pedestrian fatalities increases significantly when motorists are traveling at higher speeds.

From Oct. 18 through Oct. 22, the agency will roll out its "Safe Vehicles" campaign, encouraging the implementation and use of new vehicle technologies that are designed to enhance pedestrian safety, like back-up cameras and automatic emergency breaking.

To close out the month, the NHTSA will run its "Safe Roads" campaign from Oct. 25 through Oct. 29, focused on the ways that city planners can enhance existing roadway infrastructure to better protect pedestrians.

"All of us — state and local transportation agencies, planners and road designers, drivers and safety advocates — can contribute to improving safety for people who walk and roll," Pollack said.

(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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