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Minority pedestrians disproportionately killed in California accidents

By Jonah Most New America Media | Last updated: Jun 6, 2011 - 5:27:25 PM

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It is dangerous to be a pedestrian in California, particularly so for minorities and elders, according to a report released by the Transportation for America coalition.

California is ranked 16th in the nation in the report's Pedestrian Danger Index, and this danger is primarily shouldered by non-Whites and people over 65. Hispanic pedestrians have a 97 percent higher chance of being killed by cars than non-Hispanic Whites, and Blacks have an 83 percent higher pedestrian death rate than non-Hispanic Whites in the state, according to the report.

Nationally, older pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed walking, but in California their risk is triple this national average, making the state third in the United States in fatalities for pedestrians 65 or older.

The reasons for this imbalance are varied. In many cases, fatalities are blamed on poor roads and infrastructure, which is often a particularly pronounced problem in poorer ethnic neighborhoods. Nearly 40 percent of fatalities occur where no crosswalk is available.

Seniors often have trouble getting across busy streets with short signals. “Major roads are made for speeding cars, and seniors have a hard time crossing in time for the light, so we are more likely to be hit,” said Karen Smulevitz of United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County, in a media release from the Oakland citizen advocacy group Walk Oakland Bike Oakland.

About 6,960 pedestrians have been killed walking in California between 2000 and 2009, by far the largest share occurring in Los Angeles County, with 2,079 pedestrian fatalities during the period.

Bay Area residents are taking notice. “Pedestrian safety was a top concern raised at seven town hall meetings throughout Oakland, where we met with more than 2,000 residents over the past few months,” Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was quoted in the release. “It's clear that people want to walk safely in every neighborhood, regardless of age or race,” she added.

The Contra Costa Times put together an interactive “Dangerous Intersections Map,” covered with red markers, where anyone can warn other Bay Area walkers of trouble spots. Among dozens of intersections listed on the map is San Pablo and 55th street in Oakland, where pedestrians venture across five lanes of traffic with no light.

To confront this problem, the coalition's report proposes several solutions, especially maintaining federal funding for transportation programs, refurbishing roads and holding states accountable for pedestrian hazards.

To reduce pedestrian risk, the city of Oakland has added 600 new curb ramps around town this past year and has targeted particular at-risk intersections for renovations, such as Adeline and 18th street, near a library, school, park, senior center and low-income housing.

Oakland has also installed several high visibility crosswalks, called “scrambled systems,” in the city's Chinatown district, where, between light changes, traffic is halted in all directions and large red arrows prohibit cars from making turns. The crosswalks, painted with red and yellow floral patterns, allow pedestrians to cross between all four corners and even diagonally across the street.

The project was part of a larger effort to revitalize the Chinatown district and the crosswalks were intended to demonstrate Oakland's desire “to put pedestrians first,” said Oakland Public Works spokeswoman Kristine Shaff. “We do believe that it is safer and that it has been a positive strategy in that area over time,” she said.

Jonathan Bair, a Board Member of Walk Oakland, Bike Oakland agrees. “It's a good design, it's good for pedestrians, and we'd like to see those systems all over the city,” he said.