It’s been a grim few weeks for walkers.
On Dec. 20, a pickup truck in downtown Buford struck Gwinnett magistrate Judge Emily Powell. Powell — whose husband, Tony, is the city attorney of Social Circle — died on New Year’s Eve.
Then, on Friday night, Delta Dawn Wilbanks in Loganville was killed by car while she tried to cross Highway 78 in front of Kroger.
Both deaths are part of a growing trend in America: pedestrians being killed by cars. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, there were 6,482 pedestrian deaths in America in 1990. The number plunged to 4,109 in 2009. But now it’s climbed almost all the way back to previous levels. The GHSA estimated there were 6,227 pedestrian deaths in 2018, an increase of 4% from 2017 and 35% from 2008.
Georgia is one of the worst offenders. Between January 2018 and June 2018, 133 pedestrians died in Georgia, fewer than only California, Florida and Texas. That’s up from 101 over the same period in 2017.
Sorted by fatalities per 100,000 people, Georgia is the eighth deadliest place to walk in America.
Total traffic deaths are thankfully in long-term decline nationwide, but there are a few reasons why pedestrian deaths are rising. One is that big cars are getting more popular. In the GHSA report, the number of SUVs involved in pedestrian deaths increased 50% from 2013, while passenger car involvement increased 30%. Bigger cars mean deadlier collisions. The woman who struck Powell was driving a Ford F-150, police said.
Smartphones in the hands of both drivers and pedestrians are also a problem.
In the bigger picture, population growth in cities means more people in cars in on the sidewalks. This is especially a problem in sprawled out places like metro-Atlanta that weren’t built with walkers in mind.
Putting down phones while driving or walking is an obvious fix. So is more lighting around high-speed intersections and building more sidewalks.
Street design matters, too. Some streets, like Highway 78, have to be wide and open to accommodate serious traffic flows. But smaller streets, especially those around neighborhoods and parks, should be kept narrower. Trees should be left around them, as it makes the road feel smaller to drivers and decrease driving speeds.
Some improvements are already being made in this area. Monroe recently approved a plan to put raised sections of roadway on Davis Street and median islands on Church Street to slow down cars.
These are all small steps. But they lead to a safer world for walkers.