Preliminary data presented in an annual report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found that pedestrian deaths across the nation have increased by more than a third, even as all other traffic-related deaths have declined.
In Pennsylvania, 90 people died while walking between January and June 2018, up from 64 people during the same period the previous year.
That’s a 41 percent increase, but Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesperson Ashley Schoch said the agency tries to stay away from percentages when discussing fatalities.
“Sometimes percentages and rates can be a little bit misleading, especially when it comes to crashes,” she said, noting Hawaii as an example. Pedestrian deaths there increased by 1800% because the number of fatalities increased from one to 18. “We don’t want people to misinterpret the particular numbers, and we try to look deeper into exactly what’s happening.”
Pennsylvania and PennDOT need a new way to approach design of streets and communities, said Scott Bricker, executive director of Pittsburgh bike and pedestrian advocacy group, Bike Pittsburgh.
“Our state DOT has to recognize that this is basically a public health crisis,” he said. “It’s an emergency situation that needs a lot of resources.”
Nationwide, nearly half of all incidents occurred on local streets. Bricker said many things could be done to make streets safer for more vulnerable users, such as longer crossing times for pedestrians, better lighting, lower speed limits, bike lanes and the addition of speed tables at intersections to slow down cars.
“It’s to the point where we need an all-of-the-above approach,” he said.
Why pedestrian deaths have increased by 35 percent nationwide over the last 10 years is unclear, but both Schoch and Bricker point to impaired and distracted driving.
PennDOT make an effort to educate different types of road users, Schoch said. During 2018, the agency distributed High Visibility Pedestrian Enforcement grants to raise awareness of how to drive in pedestrian-heavy areas. Analysis to determine the efficacy of that effort is not yet complete.