The number of pedestrians in Houston who have been struck and killed by cars has spiked this year — already 31 percent higher than the total for all of 2015 — according to police.
At least 71 pedestrians have been killed as of Oct. 31, the Houston Chronicle reported. Last year, there were 7.1 percent more fatalities than in 2014.
“The numbers are just dramatically going up, and it’s been really hard for us to explain why,” Houston police Sgt. Derrick Hall said.
Many of the 71 deaths occurred when people didn’t use crosswalks to cross freeways or streets.
This year’s surge could be driven by millennials’ preference to walk and seniors’ reliance on travel by foot, urban planners say. Advocates and planners said the city needs to work making streets safer by building sidewalks, narrowing lanes, encouraging safe speeds and adding crosswalks.
Local mobility advocate Jay Blazek Crossley said authorities often blame pedestrians for their own deaths.
“But why are they incorrectly using the infrastructure? Maybe it’s because we’re designing this infrastructure wrong,” Crossley said. “Anywhere where you have to walk four blocks to get to a crosswalk is wrong. … Anywhere where a human thinks it makes sense to run across a freeway, (there is) a problem of design.”
Emiko Atherton, who leads Smart Growth America’s “Complete Streets” coalition, said design issues become evident as cities attract more millennials, who preferred walking over driving by 12 percentage points in a 2015 National Association of Realtors survey.
Seniors also may be walking more as it becomes more popular to “age in place” by staying in their homes as they grow older. Nearly 90 percent of those 65 and older said they prefer that option, according to a 2014 AARP survey.
The rise in pedestrian deaths is not confined to Houston. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced last month that the first half of 2016 saw 10.4 percent more traffic deaths across the country compared to the same period in 2015.
Harris County commissioner Steve Radack said “hundreds and hundreds of miles of county roads” lack sidewalks, and many subdivisions in unincorporated areas have been designed without thought to pedestrians. Radack also pointed to the problem of distracted driving, criticizing the Legislature and former Gov. Rick Perry for being “unresponsive” and not banning texting while driving.
Houston police said overall traffic fatalities have also increased, but not as sharply. The first 10 months of 2016 show 21 percent more crashes than the same period last year.