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Research: Pedestrian deaths up, especially among poor, minorities

"There are a number of these urban boulevards that were designed in the '50s and things were different then. Everyone was in a car," says a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration. "Over the last 30 years there has been a change in that, with more people walking and running."

That may be why pedestrian deaths are on the rise even though other traffic fatalities have dropped by around 18 percent since 2006. Fatal pedestrian accidents have been on the rise -- growing 12 percent between 2006 and 2015. Then, 2016 numbers hit, showing a jump of 11 percent in 2016 over 2015. A recent study by the Governor's Highway Safety Association brought these alarming trends to light, but doesn't explain the underlying cause.

A second report, "Dangerous by Design," released by the nonprofit Smart Growth America blames a large portion of these needless deaths on poor or missing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

"Streets without sidewalks or pedestrian crossings, with wide lanes that encourage people to drive fast are simply designed to be dangerous for people walking," reads the report. "This is not user error. Rather, it is a sign that these streets are failing to adequately meet the needs of everyone in a community."

Tragic lack of infrastructure investment may underlie disparities

According to Smart Growth, however, the inadequate infrastructure for people who walk, run or bike is not distributed equally. Echoing a 2016 report by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Smart Growth discovered that minorities, immigrants and low-income communities are much more likely to suffer.

In fact, Hispanics die in pedestrian accidents at a rate 50 percent higher than whites. The rate for African-Americans is double that of whites.

The FHA spokesperson pointed out that improving road safety is costly. "There are a number of states that are doing well just to fill potholes. And that's what Congress and the president are debating right now, a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, but who's going to pay for it?"

Smart Growth recognizes that adding pedestrian and bicycle safety features to old, crumbling roads is tough, but that low-income and disadvantaged communities are paying a huge price for continuing disparities in infrastructure investment.

"Budgets are tight at nearly every department of transportation, and there are usually far more projects than time or money allow," said their spokesperson. "So DOT staff have to make tough choices about what to prioritize, and it's not surprising that communities without political clout don't rise to the top of the list."

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