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Risks to Pedestrians on the Rise, Study Finds

Study raises concerns about pedestrian safety in the state. Officials say it's a high priority.

November 21, 2002|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

Pedestrian deaths in California rose 6% last year, and the state again led the nation in total pedestrian fatalities, according to a national study to be released today.

Last year 731 pedestrians were killed on the streets of California, the nation's most populous state. That's up from 691 in 2000, says the study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a national nonprofit group that promotes pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Within the state, Southern California led all regions in pedestrian fatalities with 389 deaths in 2001, up from 354 in the previous year, according to the "Mean Streets 2002" study.

Still, the report ranked Merced County as the most dangerous metropolitan area in the state based on a "pedestrian danger index" that takes into consideration the number of deaths per capita and the percentage of people who walk to work.

Measured by that index, the Southern California area, which includes Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties, was ranked the seventh most dangerous region in the state.

Together, the Southern California counties annually spend 25 cents per person in federal funds on pedestrian and bicycle projects, compared to 52 cents per person statewide, the study found. Nationwide, the federal government annually spends 87 cents per person on pedestrian and bicycle projects.

The study did not calculate state and local funds spent on pedestrian projects.

"Unfortunately, despite the pleas of mayors and local elected officials, few federal transportation dollars are being spent on pedestrian safety in most of these areas," the study says.

The report also identified the 10 streets in America with the greatest number of pedestrian deaths in 2000 and 2001. The top three streets in that category are in Florida.

The street with the most deaths in California, the study says, is Foothill Boulevard in San Bernardino, which had 10 pedestrian fatalities in the last two years.

The study found that the streets with the most pedestrian deaths are high-speed arterial routes that have few pedestrian accommodations, such as crosswalks or footbridges.

In response to the report, state and local officials insisted that they have recently made pedestrian safety a priority.

A spokesman for the California Department of Transportation noted that the governor recently approved $30 million for 110 grants to build pedestrian and bicycle projects statewide.

"That's not chump change," said Caltrans spokesman John Robin Witt.

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the transit planning agency for Los Angeles County, said the MTA has increased pedestrian spending in the county from half a million dollars in 1992 to $10 million in the current spending plan.

Hasan Ikhrata, director of planning and policy for the Southern California Assn. of Governments, said his group also has made pedestrian safety a priority in transportation planning.

But he said the level of funding for pedestrian projects is still woefully low.

"For some reason," he said, "pedestrian safety is not sexy enough for politicians to champion."

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