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2016 was the deadliest year for pedestrians since 1996

468978823.jpgThe statistics are rather shocking. While the incidence of fatal motor vehicle accidents is down overall, the death rate among pedestrians last year reached its highest point since 1996, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association. Even worse, last year's rate was 11 percent higher than in 2015.

According to Finance & Commerce magazine, the preliminary numbers in from last year are stark. 5,997 pedestrians were killed in traffic last year. In 2006, only 4,795 pedestrians were killed.

Meanwhile, other traffic fatalities were down substantially. Between 2006 and 2016, the total number of traffic fatalities nationwide dropped by an impressive 18 percent. What's going on?

"Survivability is greatly improved in cars but the human body has not changed, so humans are as susceptible as before," said a spokesperson for the association, which analyzes data from the states' highway safety offices.

Beyond the vulnerability of pedestrians and bikers, what other factors at work?

There was an interesting discussion in the Finance & Commerce article about how much infrastructure investment matters when it comes to pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Last year, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, found evidence of a social justice issue. According to the Center, which is funded by the Federal Highway Administration, found that minorities, immigrants, and low-income persons are "less likely to live near or travel along roads with safe, accessible, and high-quality pedestrian and bicycle facilities."

The nonprofit Smart Growth America made similar findings in a report in January. "Streets without sidewalks or pedestrian crossings, with wide lanes that encourage people to drive fast are simply designed to be dangerous for people walking," reads that report. "This is not user error. Rather, it is a sign that these streets are failing to adequately meet the needs of everyone in a community."

Is our pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure being distributed equally across the U.S.? Probably not. Indiana is one of nine states that do not have any safe passing laws in place to protect bicyclists. Budgets are tight everywhere, says a spokesperson for Smart Growth. "DOT staff have to make tough choices about what to prioritize, and it's not surprising that communities without political clout don't rise to the top of the list."

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