A new study released last week from Smart Growth America found that the Orlando metro area - which includes Orlando, Kissimmee and Sanford - is the deadliest place in the country for pedestrians.
According to the “Dangerous by Design” study, the Orlando area registered 656 pedestrian deaths between 2008 and 2017, which is the sixth most per capita for a city over 100,000 people.
Central Florida also scored the highest “Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI)” rating, at 313.3. The PDIs calculated by how deadly it is to walk in a state or metropolitan area based on the number of people struck and killed by drivers while walking. It also takes into consideration the area’s population and the number within that population that walks to work.
Those numbers concern Amanda Day, who heads up Best Foot Forward - a grassroots pedestrian safety initiative that expanded into Kissimmee in October 2017.
“These facts are disappointing,” Day said. “But it serves as another reminder of how important it is for us to solve this problem by tackling it from every angle.”
Best Foot Forward is a regional nonprofit collaboration between law enforcement agencies, LYNX, the Osceola County Health Department and MetroPlan Orlando. It’s aimed at reversing escalating pedestrian injuries and fatalities by changing driver behavior at crosswalks and exploring safer street designs.
BFF has made some strides at busy Kissimmee intersections along Broadway and by the Osceola County Administrative Building.
Day said another big component to safer streets is early education.
Buckling up and recycling were lessons taught at public schools in the 1990s, and Day argues learning how to safely navigate crosswalks and practice good pedestrian behavior are vital lessons to teach children.
One reason BFF was expanded into Osceola County was due to a sharp 30 percent increase in pedestrian accidents from 2014 to 2016, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. During those years, 148 people were injured and 19 were killed in pedestrian-related crashes.
Florida as a whole also ranked the worst state in the country, according to the study. Six other Florida cities also appeared in the top 10 (including Daytona, Lakeland and Tampa). There have been 5,433 deaths statewide in the last decade, according to the report.
But pedestrian safety isn’t just a Florida problem.
From 2008 to 2017, drivers killed 49,340 pedestrians nationwide, a 35 percent increase.
That’s more than 13 people a day.
The last two years have been the worst, with 2016 and 2017 showing the most pedestrian deaths since 1990.
One way counties and cities can reduce risk to walkers and bicyclists is by designing new roads with pedestrians - as well as motorists - in mind.
It’s an engineering approach known as complete streets.
For example, a major project underway along Hoagland Boulevard in Kissimmee is installing new bike lanes and wide sidewalks on both sides of the street at the same time roads are being resurfaced and expanded.
The West 192 Development Authority is also preparing to launch a study that will focus on an elevated pedestrian overpass for the West U.S. Highway 192 corridor, with $200,000 allocated for the study.