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Pushing pedestrian protection

Event will discuss ways to improve safety

Policy choices and infrastructure improvements could help prevent pedestrian deaths, according to an author speaking Tuesday about the state of pedestrian safety.

Angie Schmitt, a transportation writer and planner who once worked for the The Vindicator and Streetsblog as a journalist, will present information discussed in her book, “Right of Way: Race, Class and the Silent Crisis of Pedestrian Deaths in America.”

Healthy Community Partnership and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments organized the 6 p.m. Tuesday event, titled “The Intersection of Pedestrian Safety, Class and Race: A dialogue with Angie Schmitt.”

The presentation will address pedestrian safety in America and will include a discussion about what can be done to improve it.

“More than 6,000 pedestrians are killed every year on American streets, representing an enormous 50 percent increase from the first part of the decade. We’ll talk about the social trends that are putting people at risk, and why fundamentally it is a problem of systematic, structural inequality,” an event description states.

Schmitt said she was inspired to write the book after working nine years at Streetsblog writing about transportation in cities across the country “from a progressive reform perspective, advocating for more options for riding bikes, public transit and walking,” she said.

“Ten times more pedestrians than bicyclists are killed every year,” Schmitt said. “It is an underexplored issue and what is happening is unjust.”

A lack of access to transportation not only threatens life and limb when streets aren’t safe to traverse by foot, Schmitt said, it also can create a “cascade effect” that can lead to homelessness.

Although some cities are starting to rethink pedestrian safety, many cities and towns are more worried about accommodating cars and ensuring they can travel as fast as possible, she said.

“Everything else is sort of an afterthought,” she said.

However, success stories have been apparent in recent years, Schmitt said, noting “there is more emphasis than there used to be in some places.”

In Detroit, an investment originally meant to soothe fears about crime has led to major safety improvements. A few years ago, the city inventoried its streetlights, found a big portion of them were not working and partnered with the state to get bonds issued to pay to fix the problem, Schmitt said.

In two years, pedestrian deaths dropped 35 percent, Schmitt said, and deaths in dark, unlit conditions almost disappeared, she said.

“There were 12 a year, and it went to one,” Schmitt said.

In New York city, traffic signals were retimed to give pedestrians a head start when crossing, so traffic trying to turn would have to wait until the people clear the intersection, Schmitt said.

“In Ohio when you are crossing an intersection, you have to deal with turners,” Schmitt said.

Bonds also are helping cities across the country install and improve sidewalk systems, she said.

Sidewalks increase safety for people with disabilities, she said. But many places privatize the maintenance of sidewalks, instead of placing the responsibility on government entities, Schmitt said.

Negligence of pedestrian safety often is concentrated in areas where racial minorities or less affluent people live, Schmitt said.

“Sometimes people don’t want public spaces to reinforce segregation; there is sometimes that issue with public transit expansion, too. The poorest neighborhoods, the mostly black neighborhoods, that is where we see the worst conditions, and those are the neighborhoods where people walk the most and need the safety,” Schmitt said.

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