Arizona has the nation’s second highest rate of pedestrian fatalities — something state officials are trying to curb with several efforts to make it safer to walk.
The battle is a twopronged one: Not only do officials have to change bad habits of drivers and pedestrians, they also must raise awareness of a mostly ignored issue.
"It doesn’t impress upon you how big of a problem it is until you look back at the numbers at the end of the year," said Michael Frias, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. "Because it happens one at a time, it doesn’t garner the public’s attention."
In Arizona, 432 pedestrians died from 1999 to 2001, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied the problem nationwide and found Arizona the second worst place for pedestrians. The rate of deaths per 100,000 residents varied in that time from 2.86 in 1999 to 3.89 in 2000. Only New Mexico has a higher rate.
Arizona likely has such a high rate, Frias said, because it has a relatively undeveloped mass transit system that results in heavy automobile use.
The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety wants to bring the rates down by providing grants to communities with plans to make streets safer for pedestrians. The office is accepting proposals now and will select the communities by mid-May.
The grants could go to support more enforcement in school zones, better crosswalk signs, additional lighting or other measures.
Some East Valley communities have applied, but Frias declines to identify them or their proposals until the office awards grants.
Arizona’s worst city is Phoenix, which ranked third worst among U.S. cities with 500,000 or more residents.
The most dangerous place in the East Valley for pedestrians is Tempe, which the NHTSA says has the 87 th worst rate of deaths for U.S. cities with 100,000 or more residents.
The busiest Tempe areas are around Arizona State University, and police do extra enforcement at the start of the school year to discourage jaywalking.
Mill Avenue is a busy place for walkers, but Tempe police Sgt. Dan Masters
said serious accidents are uncommon there because congestion keeps speeds low. The bigger worry is along Apache Boulevard, where students cross six lanes of rapidly moving traffic.
That stretch of road is home to one of Tempe’s most notable pedestrian accidents. ASU student Jessica Woodin died on that road when she crossed at McAllister Avenue in 2001. The driver, Phoenix attorney Mark Torre, was sentenced to 9 1 /2 years in prison.
Tempe police cite jaywalkers, but Masters said it can be a time-intensive task because officers need to be in the right place at the right time.
"We have to observe it, just like any other civil traffic citation," Masters said.