(Part of the Orlando Sentinel series, Blood in the Streets)
The nation was transfixed after an Asiana jetliner crash-landed in San Francisco recently. Two people were killed, the first commercial air fatalities in the U.S. in four years.
If only Central Florida’s streets were so safe.
An Orlando Sentinel special report has found that in the past six years, 333 pedestrians have been killed by vehicles.
Instead of transfixed, the region seems resigned, as if we are powerless to do anything about the carnage.
And where has that resignation gotten us? Well, in addition to being the nation’s No. 1 tourist destination, we also claim the title as the nation’s deadliest city for pedestrians.
You won’t see that on any chamber brochures or theme-park marketing campaigns.
Instead, Central Florida’s shameful distinction remains mostly in the shadows, unless you’re a family member confronted with the grief of losing a loved one. Or if you’re among the scores of people who survive but suffer horrible, lifelong injuries.
Or even if you’re one of the many blameless motorists who every day bear the burden of having injured, even killed, someone who blundered into the path of your car.
And make no mistake, the majority of pedestrian deaths and injuries are due to the misjudgment or carelessness of pedestrians, not motorists.
There’s a reason for that. In the headlong rush to build, build, build, this region has created the kind of sprawl that necessitates bigger, high-speed roads.
The needs of pedestrians have been an afterthought. Engineers design crosswalks, but covering eight lanes of fast-moving traffic can be terrifying for a hapless pedestrian with kids in tow.
The Sentinel’s series highlighting this near-daily tragedy should be a clarion call, not just for the usual suspects in elected office, but for the region’s businesses, institutions and community groups that can take up the cause of making Central Florida’s streets safer for pedestrians.
Common decency should be enough reason to make pedestrian safety a priority, but there are pragmatic reasons, too. What region — especially a family-friendly destination — wants to be tagged as the deadliest anything?
If Central Florida’s reputation for pedestrian danger grows, will tourists start to think twice about visiting? Will businesses looking to relocate mark the region down on quality of life? Orlando can hardly afford such a black mark in the hyper-competitive market for new business.
The region’s leaders need to start making some tough decisions, like lowering speed limits, spending more money to retrofit existing roads and demanding that new roads be designed with pedestrians in mind.
But as today’s installment of “Blood in the Streets” makes clear, this region must undergo an attitude change. A cultural change among motorists acknowledging that pedestrians have the right to be safe, and that pedestrians have the responsibility to act safely.
That’ll take leadership. Who’s up for it?