Bakersfield ranks second within the nation’s information in deadliest metropolitan areas for pedestrians
Our busiest roads and thoroughfares are designed primarily for the convenience of drivers rather than the safety of pedestrians.
According to a nationwide study published on Tuesday, this is one of the reasons Bakersfield is the second most dangerous subway area in the country as a pedestrian.
Titled “Dangerous by Design,” a study by a group called Smart Growth America analyzed 2010-2019 data from a number of government sources to compute what the authors call the Pedestrian Danger Index. The index enables the comparison of pedestrian safety in cities of different sizes, densities and walking speeds.
According to the study’s authors, pedestrian deaths have increased 45 percent in a decade, and people of skin color, older adults, and hikers in low-income areas have had higher death rates.
“The last four years recorded (2016-2019) are now the four deadliest years for pedestrian deaths since 1990,” the study’s authors in the report.
During this 10-year period, 53,435 people were hit and killed by drivers. In 2019, the 6,237 people who were hit and killed represented more than 17 deaths a day.
Steve Davis, communications director for Smart Growth America, said the Bakersfield metropolitan area had gotten worse, not better.
“In the decade from 2005 to 2014, there were 205 deaths in the region and a rate of 2.39 deaths per 100,000 people,” said Davis.
“For the 10-year period in this report from 2010 to 2019, there were 260 deaths in the region, at a rate of 2.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
“The PDI has skyrocketed on these three reports. If Bakersfield had managed not to deteriorate, the report of 132.8 PDI in the 2016 report would land the region 31st on this report today.”
Instead, Bakersfield shot to second – and Davis believes it’s possible that this area could overtake Orlando, Florida in the next study due out in early 2023.
According to the study, many places still lack the safest infrastructure for hiking. For example, zebra crossings, if they exist at all, are often so far apart as to be impractical or do not provide enough time for some adults to cross safely.
Unnecessarily wide lanes encourage high speeds – a major factor in the survival of a vehicle compared to pedestrians – and many streets are equipped with wide turning lanes, or “slip lanes”, which enable cars to turn right across zebra crossings at high speed.
“Our current approach to security should be judged for its merits, and it has been a complete failure in all respects,” said Beth Osborne, transportation director for Smart Growth America.
“While transport companies have done a lot to avoid this, we urgently need to change the way we design and build roads to prioritize safety, not speed, as we are currently doing.”
Osborne said it was an obsession to keep traffic moving and avoid delays at all costs. In our efforts to keep traffic flowing, we are creating the very dangers highlighted in the report.
It seems that money can always be found to widen a road, she said, even if adding sidewalks is considered too expensive.
It probably should come as no surprise that certain groups bear a disproportionate share of the risk, especially African Americans, older adults, and people who live and walk in low-income communities.
According to the study’s authors, during the last 10-year study period, black people were hit and killed by drivers at an 82 percent higher rate than white, non-Hispanic Americans. And the death rate for people living in the lowest-income neighborhoods was almost double that of middle-income census areas and almost three times that of higher-income neighborhoods.
Several incidents occurred on Union Avenue, a low-income area where crosswalks are apart, motorists drive fast, and pedestrians are quite numerous, according to an interactive map showing the locations of pedestrian deaths.
The City of Bakersfield, County Kern and others have worked to reduce the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured on local roads. Improving and creating more crosswalks – including a lighted crosswalk on 24th Street – educating pedestrians and drivers about traffic rules, and citing fast-moving drivers are just some of the efforts officials have made to reduce the number of deaths from Reduce pedestrians.
However, the study’s authors firmly believe that deaths and life-changing injuries will continue until the design of our roads changes significantly.
And in a competition between a steel machine on four wheels and a soft person on two legs, the person always loses.
Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @semayerTBC.