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Pedestrian deaths up 41 percent in Pennsylvania

Friday, March 8, 2019  
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Trib Live

by Nicole C. Brambila

Pedestrian deaths up 41 percent in Pennsylvania

Fueled by ubiquitous sport utility vehicles and distracted drivers, Pennsylvania saw a 41 percent increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2018 over a similar period the previous year, a new report has found.

Pennsylvania wasn’t alone.

The more than 6,200 pedestrians killed on U.S. roads in 2018 represents the highest death toll in nearly three decades. Ninety pedestrians were killed by motorists in Pennsylvania during the first six months of 2018 compared to 64 during the same period in 2017.

Released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, the preliminary numbers reveal a sobering trend.

“We’re seeing the highest number of pedestrian deaths nationally in 30 years,” Russ Martin, the association’s director of Policy and Government Relations, told the Tribune-Review.

Martin added, “I think the big takeaway here is that we have this problem that’s becoming worse.”

Among the findings:

• After 19 years of declines, pedestrian traffic fatalities have been on the rise since 2009.

• In the 10-year period from 2008 to 2017, the number of pedestrian deaths nationally climbed 35 percent from 4,414 to 5,977.

• Even as pedestrian fatalities have steadily increased, all other traffic-related deaths have dropped 6 percent.

• Pedestrian fatalities represent 16 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths, up from 12 percent a decade ago.

• 25 states, including Pennsylvania, saw increases in pedestrian fatalities from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2018, over the previous year.

Transportation experts pointed to a number of contributing factors that have driven up the increase that include distracted driving, alcohol and SUVs. The number of sport utility vehicles involved in pedestrian deaths since 2013 increased at an accelerated rate: a 50 percent rise compared to 30 percent for passenger cars.

The walkable city movement and an aging infrastructure built only for cars were also blamed.

Nighttime crashes from 2008 to 2017 accounted for 90 percent of the increase in pedestrian deaths. About 60 percent of all fatalities nationally occur on local streets and highways.

The most recent pedestrian death in the region occurred in January, when a 75-year-old Pittsburgh man was struck by a by a hit-and-run driver near the South Side Slopes. The victim, John J. Kulinski, was hit crossing the 2200 block of Arlington Avenue.

“Crossing the street should not be a death sentence,” Richard Retting, the report’s author, said in a statement.

In Pennsylvania, pedestrian fatalities account for about 10 to 14 percent of all traffic deaths, said Erin Waters-Trasatt, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“In Pennsylvania, PennDOT’s mission is to maintain and improve safety no matter how you travel,” Waters-Trasatt said in an email to the Trib.

In the five years from 2013 through 2017, 792 pedestrians have been killed on Pennsylvania’s roadways. The counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, which includes Allegheny, accounted for about 12 percent of all pedestrian fatalities over the five-year-period.

The report found that every state has taken steps to address the issue of pedestrian safety with a number of tactics. Pennsylvania law enforcement has conducted targeted enforcement stings that ensnared motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and the state has focused on a variety of engineering fixes that include biking lanes, speed tables or bumps and raised intersections.

Karina Ricks, director of Pittsburgh’s new Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, said the changes don’t have to be expensive. She also noted that Pittsburgh has 1,000 miles of roads. No deaths, she said, is the goal, even if it’s not entirely attainable.

“The only way to absolutely guarantee no pedestrian deaths is to make everyone a driver, and that’s not what we want,” Ricks said.

Governors Highway Safety Association’s annual report on pedestrian traffic fatalities is based on preliminary 2018, state-reported data. To read a full copy of the report, go to https://www.ghsa.org.


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