A study released this week ranking the most dangerous areas in the country for pedestrians lists Jacksonville as one of the most deadly communities.
The study, Dangerous by Design 2014, points out that from 2003 to 2012, more than 47,000 people died while walking on streets in America — 16 times the number of people killed in natural disasters during that time.
Of those deaths, 359 happened in Jacksonville. Based on that number, Jacksonville ranks 23rd in the nation for pedestrian deaths. But the study, sponsored by National Complete Streets Coaltion and Smart Growth America, looks beyond pedestrian deaths.
Dangerous by Design uses a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) to rank the most dangerous places for walking. The PDI indicates the relative likelihood a person on foot in a given area will be hit by a vehicle and killed.
Jacksonville's PDI for 2008-2012 was 182.71 – that ranked third in the nation behind Orlando-Kissimmee (244.28) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (190.13).
The top four most dangerous communities for pedestrians were all in Florida. No. 4 was Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (145.33).
The PDI is based on pedestrian fatalities in the last five years and the percentage of local commuters who walk to work. The most dangerous metro areas have more pedestrian deaths per capita, despite fewer people walking. You can read the full study online.
The study also said there's been a push by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the office of the Surgeon General for Americans to walk more to help them stay healthy and fight chronic disease. But the study points out that's hard to do when there's a legacy of roadways that fail to provide safety for people on foot.
People like 19-year-old Christopher McDowell, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver on St. Johns Bluff Road in January. There is no sidewalk along the stretch of road where he was killed.
George Gillis, McDowell's uncle, said McDowell liked to walk places, sometimes a 2-mile trek to the store. He said he's concerned by the statistics in the Dangerous by Design study but he's not sure how the city can solve the problem.
“More sidewalks would probably help, that would give the pedestrian a place to walk without walking on the side of the road,” Gillis said. “But then again, if a driver is on their cellphone, drunk, high on drugs, they're not paying attention, not driving safely.”
Jacksonville has taken steps to try and alleviate the problem, hiring a full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator to work on street planning and design solutions and enacting a city ordinance that will lead to new walking-friendly design standards in urban priority areas of the city.