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Published: Saturday, 11/23/2002

Toledo state's worst place to walk


Toledo is the most dangerous metropolitan area in Ohio in which to be a pedestrian, but its pedestrian fatality rate is below the national average, according to a statistical analysis announced yesterday by a transportation think tank.

The Washington-based Surface Transportation Policy Project used federal traffic accident statistics and census data to create a Pedestrian Danger Index for metropolitan areas across the country. Toledo scored 17.0 on the 0 to 100 scale, the worst among 13 metropolitan areas in Ohio, but better than four of seven Michigan metros.

Lt. Louis Borucki, head of the Toledo Police Department's traffic section, said the report mystified him, because Toledo had only two pedestrian fatalities last year and has had none so far in 2002. For the report's purposes, however, the Toledo metro area includes all of Lucas, Wood, and Fulton counties.

Gwen Neundorfer, Lucas County's traffic safety coordinator, said she too was uncertain about the report's significance.

Representatives of the think tank could not be reached yesterday for further comment on the report.

“For some reason, Toledo seems to shake out high” in a lot of traffic accident categories, she said.

Nationwide, Sun Belt cities scored the worst in the agency's “Mean Streets 2002” analysis, which rated Orlando, Fla., as the most dangerous big city for pedestrians, and Ocala, Fla., the worst overall.

Such cities, the report said, “experienced rapid population growth in the latter half of the 20th century when development was designed to facilitate fast-moving automobile traffic and new growth tended to follow new highways away from the central city.”

Recent road building and development in those areas is characterized by wide boulevards that often have few crosswalks or pedestrian overpasses, the report said. Of the more than 9,600 pedestrians killed across the country in 2000 and 2001 - the years sampled - 45 percent died at locations where no crosswalk was available, and another 19 percent died at locations where crosswalk availability was not indicated on the police report.

Cleveland and Cincinnati, with danger indexes of 11.5 and 9.6, respectively, ranked among the nation's 10 safest big metro areas. Among the 10 most dangerous, the farthest north is Nashville. Smaller cities, like Toledo, were not ranked in the report.

In Michigan, Detroit was listed as the 14th most dangerous big city, and the Saginaw-Bay City, Benton Harbor, and Grand Rapids-Muskegon metro areas all had Pedestrian Danger Indexes higher than Toledo's.

While New York City had the highest pedestrian death toll during the sampled years, the study listed the Big Apple as one of the safest places for pedestrians because it has the highest volumes and percentages of people walking to their jobs - the census statistic used to determine how much of a city's population walks regularly.

The report's authors conceded that data about the percentage of people that walk for other purposes, not just commuting, would provide a more accurate measure of pedestrian exposure to traffic danger, but said such information is not available at the city level.

The transportation policy project argued that to the extent that building pedestrian-hostile roadways discourages people from walking or biking, the public health suffers further because people get less exercise.

The statistics point to a need for increased transportation spending on facilities to support pedestrians and bicyclists, the report said. The transportation policy project has been a consistent advocate of pedestrian and transit-friendly policies, citing a philosophy of “people before cars.”

The report showed no clear correlation between recent federal dollars spent on pedestrian safety projects or programs and the Pedestrian Danger Index.

Metro Toledo's federal funding for such purposes during the study period was the fourth highest in Ohio, even though its danger index was the state's worst.

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