Reflecting national trends, even as driving in Mesa has been reduced, the number of people killed on city streets is increasing.
The pandemic ultimately may be seen as a devious killer, taking the lives not only of thousands who died of COVID-19, but also with an increasing number of sudden deaths from shootings and car crashes.
Though studies are still in the early stages, some experts feel the forced closures of the pandemic led to a rise in murders – which is reflected in Mesa, where homicides are at 10-year highs.
On National Public Radio, which reported on a 30 percent nation-wide rise in 2020 murders compared to 2019 (based on FBI statistics), a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis said the pandemic likely was a prime suspect in the murder spike.
In a recent Politico story, Vulcan Topalli, a professor of criminology at Georgia State University, said, “I’m not surprised at all that we had an increase in crime.
“Criminologists and public health people were saying that that was going to be the case as soon as they heard about the pandemic. And it’s pretty much come true at this point.”
In Mesa, 24 people were murdered last year. Another 26 have been killed violently this year – the highest number since 26 were killed here in 2006.
Mesa is also a microcosm of another deadly trend: traffic fatalities.
Even as driving continues to decrease during the pandemic, deaths on the road are spiking.
On June 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report on 2020.
“While Americans drove less in 2020 due to the pandemic, NHTSA’s early estimates show that an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes – the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007,” according to the agency.
“This represents an increase of about 7.2 percent as compared to the 36,096 fatalities reported in 2019.”
And yet, data from the Federal Highway Administration showed vehicle miles traveled in 2020 decreased by about 13 percent.
Why did miles driven decrease, yet fatalities increase?
“The main behaviors that drove this increase include: impaired driving, speeding and failure to wear a seat belt,” according to the NHTSA.
In 2021, things only got worse.
“Road fatalities spiked in the first half of 2021, the largest increase ever recorded in its reporting system’s history during a six-month period,” according to an Oct. 30 Forbes magazine article citing NHTSA data.
“More than 20,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roads, a nearly 20 percent increase from the same period in 2020 ...Incidents of speeding and not using seatbelts were also found to be higher than before the pandemic.”
Similar dangerous driving appears to be happening in Mesa.
On Sept. 21, Mesa’s Transportation Advisory Board heard a presentation from Ryan Hudson, a city engineer, and the Mesa Police Department.
According to Hudson, average daily traffic volume in Mesa decreased by about 30 percent in 2020.
On the other hand, fatal crashes in Mesa increased from 28 in 2019 to 36 in 2020. Last year’s death total was the highest in a decade and more than double the number who died on Mesa roads in 2015.
Through the first week of November, 35 people died in Mesa traffic collisions.
The report Hudson presented showed 44 percent of those who died in 2020 were pedestrians.
The total number of crashes decreased by 1 percent last year, yet fatalities increased by 29 percent.
And, in 46 percent of fatalities, drugs or alcohol was a factor.
This year, speeding was a factor in about a third of the fatalities.
Pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities decreased, but motorcyclist deaths increased.
Most fatal and serious injury crashes involving a pedestrian or bicyclist included the action of crossing the road, according to the report.
Faults were found in pedestrians who did not use crosswalk, bicyclists who rode against traffic and motorists who failed to yield.
According to David Rico, from 2017 to 2020 over one-third of Mesa road fatalities were pedestrians. Pedestrians who were killed often did not use crosswalks or disregarded signals.
He summarized that most predominant violation of fatal and serious injury crashes over the last four years were “pedestrian did not use crosswalk,” “bicyclist rode against traffic” and “motorist failure to yield.”
Hudson said a regional analysis by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) had similar results. AMAG report recommended additional crossing facilities.
Lt. Jason Coon said the Mesa PD “started a fatal accident reduction program
in January 2021 which targeted areas most likely to have a fatal crash. The
program includes educating the homeless population and providing selective enforcement.”
Hudson noted the city has multiple safety projects in various stages, including school zone improvements, intersection signal modifications (such as left turn arrows and flashing yellow arrows) and signal timing modifications.