Lack of sidewalks, bike paths cited
Don’t forget to look both ways before crossing the street — especially if you’re walking the streets in Louisiana. According to a recent study, the Pelican State has the fifth highest pedestrian death rate in the country.
The report, prepared by the Center for Planning Excellence and the Louisiana Public Health Institute, evaluated 10 years of federal fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report demonstrates a need for more state and city planners to incorporate pedestrian and cyclist safety into traffic plans, according to Rachel DiResto, CPEX executive vice president.
“You drive around and see people walking in the roads, and crossing the streets and you think it looks so unsafe,” she said. “But if you look, there’s no safe way for them to cross six lanes of cars.”
Sidewalks, crosswalks and bike paths are valuable tools to protect pedestrians and cyclists from vehicular traffic, but they also are frequently the first elements cut from a road project to save money, DiResto said.
Louisiana has a pedestrian death rate of 2.29 per 100,000 residents. The report also said the Louisiana is third highest in child pedestrian deaths, with a fatality rate of 1.43.
Pedestrian deaths are on the rise even as vehicular deaths overall have decreased in Louisiana over the past 10 years.
Between 2003 and 2012, there were 1,028 total pedestrian fatalities statewide, accounting for 12 percent of traffic-related deaths. In 2012 alone, 17 percent of traffic deaths involved pedestrians.
The New Orleans metropolitan area, including Metarie and Kenner, led metro areas in pedestrian fatalities with 270 over the 10-year period. Pedestrian deaths in the region made up 18 percent of its total traffic fatalities.
In the Baton Rouge metro area, there were 163 pedestrian fatalities, making up 11 percent of its total traffic fatalities.
In Lafayette, there were 74 pedestrian fatalities, amounting to 10 percent of its traffic fatalities.
DiResto said local and state officials may not realize there is federal money available to retrofit roads and intersections with safety measures. While federal dollars for transportation projects may be decreasing, money designated for safety in transportation has increased.
If officials can demonstrate that a corridor has a high number of fatalities, she said, they can make a case for federal dollars.
Nationwide, Florida had the highest pedestrian death rate with 2.83 per 100,000 residents. New Mexico, Arizona and South Carolina also had higher rates than Louisiana.
The safest state in the country for pedestrians is Nebraska, with a pedestrian fatality rate of 0.51 per 100,000 residents.
DiResto said that in Baton Rouge, where CPEX is based, local authorities have made strides with the Green Light Plan, a half-cent-sales-tax-funded road improvements plan to reduce traffic congestion. Pedestrian safety measures, like sidewalks, are often included in the road projects.
But she said city officials could offer more in the way of crosswalks at major intersections.
East Baton Rouge Parish DPW Director David Guillory said local projects all include sidewalks and crosswalks, and ramps are being added to intersections where traffic signals are updated.
He said many of the more high-profile vehicle accidents in the area have taken place on state roads.
Representatives from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development could not be reached for comment Tuesday.