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Walking Fresno streets is just as dangerous as rankings say

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Of the nation’s 104 largest metropolitan areas, Fresno is the 36th most dangerous city for pedestrians.

Take it from someone who likes to walk – our fair city can be a scary place for pedestrians, especially when it’s raining.

Fresno’s No. 36 ranking comes from Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on advancing wise public policy in our ever-growing urban centers.

Smart Growth America has published a report titled “Dangerous by Design 2016.

“Between 2005 and 2014, a total of 46,149 people were struck and killed by cars while walking in the United States,” the report states. “In 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, 4,884 people were killed by a car while walking – 105 more than in 2013. On average, 13 people were struck and killed by a car while walking every day in 2014….’Dangerous by Design 2016’ takes a closer look at this alarming epidemic.”

Smart Growth America’s researchers came up with a “pedestrian danger index,” or PDI. This index, the organization’s website states, “is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.”

The Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area in Florida is the most dangerous community, with a PDI of 283.1. Eight of the 10 most dangerous metro areas in the U.S. are in Florida.

Bakersfield ranked No. 12 with a PDI of 132.8. Stockton-Lodi was No. 29 with a PDI of 102.9.

Fresno’s PDI was 95.4. According to the report, Fresno had 190 pedestrian deaths from 2005 through 2014. That is two deaths per 100,000 people.

It’s not clear to me how much weight the PDI gives to deaths per 100,000. Some cities with a lower figure were deemed more dangerous than Fresno. Three cities with a higher figure (New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., and Columbia, S.C.) were deemed less dangerous than Fresno.

Bottom line: 190 pedestrian deaths over a 10-year period are a lot. The Smart Growth America website includes a locator map for each metro area showing where the deaths occurred. Downtown, especially in the G Street area of Chinatown/Fresno Rescue Mission, was risky for pedestrians. So, too, was the Blackstone Avenue/Abby Street corridor.

“Americans were 7.2 times more likely to die as a pedestrian than from a natural disaster,” the report states. “Each one of those people was a child, parent, friend, classmate or neighbor.”

I fully understand that some, perhaps many, of the 190 pedestrian victims were at fault. Some no doubt were drunk or full of drugs. Or they weren’t obeying the rules of the road. Or they were careless. Obviously, they didn’t deserve to die. At the same time, the motorists of Fresno deserve our understanding as well.

These issues will soon come to the City Council when the Administration of Mayor Lee Brand presents the newest version of Fresno’s Active Transportation Plan. The public got its first taste of the plan at the Dec. 15 council meeting. The full presentation was postponed until the New Year so it could get a better vetting.

The plan’s four goals are: “1.) Equitably improve the safety and perceived safety of walking and bicycling in Fresno; 2.) Increase walking and bicycling trips in Fresno by creating user-friendly facilities; 3.) Improve the geographic equity of access to walking and bicycling facilities in Fresno; 4.) Fill key gaps in Fresno’s walking and bicycling networks.”

Officials at Smart Growth America no doubt would endorse all four.

What’s it like for walkers in Fresno?

On Tuesday afternoon I walked from my home near Bullard High School to Downtown. I picked up a couple of books at county library and made the rounds at City Hall.

My journey down much of Blackstone was uneventful.

I wandered a bit on my walk home, finally heading north on Maroa Avenue. I got to Maroa and Shields Avenue at about 6:15 p.m. The rain, thanks to the Pineapple Express, was hard and steady.

I enjoy walking in the rain when I have a golf umbrella. I had a golf umbrella on this walk, so I didn’t mind when my traffic light turned red just as I got to the intersection. I stood patiently on the southeast corner. A gas station is there.

I looked across the street to the northeast corner. A boy was standing there. My wife and I raised three children to adulthood, so I have some experience in gaging youthful age. I’d say he was about 8 years old.

What struck me at first was his calm demeanor. He didn’t have an umbrella. He wasn’t wearing a heavy coat or a hooded sweatshirt. He was getting drenched, but he paid no attention to the rain.

Then it dawned on me – the boy wanted to cross Maroa and head west on the Shields sidewalk. He was waiting until all the cars turning left from Shields onto northbound Maroa had passed by. He was waiting for the “walk” signal.

Dark sky, heavy rain, big cars, exasperated drivers, busy intersection, small boy – oh, Lord, I thought, help him.

I knew the most dangerous part of the journey would be negotiating the three lanes (left-turn lane, southbound lane, right-turn lane) of southbound Maroa. A car was in the left-turn lane as the boy reached the center island. The boy paused on the center island, then continued walking. A car in the southbound lane stopped at the crosswalk line. The boy made sure the car stopped before walking in front of it.

So far, so good.

But the car in the southbound lane was a big one. What would happen when the boy in the driving rain got to the right-turn lane? It was empty, but we all know the scenario: The car that had been traveling behind the big car in the southbound lane could be making a right onto Shields. The driver no doubt would be in a hurry. He make a rolling stop, then turn. The driver would be looking for westbound cars, not a skinny 8-year-old boy alone in the crosswalk. The size of the car in the southbound lane would hide from someone in the crosswalk the arrival of a car in the right-turn lane until the last second.

That’s exactly what happened.

But this boy was smart. He paused in front of the big southbound car. Sure enough, a car had pulled into the right-turn lane. The driver had every intention of making a rolling stop. That’s why the car went halfway into the crosswalk before suddenly coming to a complete stop. The driver had seen the boy, who had correctly anticipated just such danger.

An accident, perhaps even a tragedy, had been averted. The boy made it to the sidewalk. Then he ran. He ran fast, and kept running until I lost him in the darkness and rain.

I had two thoughts.

That boy is going to be quite an athlete.

Thank you, Lord.

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article. I hope it is seen by all those walker and drivers who are not paying attention. Thank God this child was smart enough to not only obey the laws but know that not everyone else does. Remember when we were kids and our parents told us about the difference between our “Right of Way” and being “Dead Right”.

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