Bakersfield is not safe for pedestrians.
That sharp message, but hard truth, comes from a new nationwide study that lists Bakersfield as the No. 2 most dangerous metropolitan area in the United States to be a pedestrian. The “Dangerous by Design” study by Smart Growth America analyzed government data from 2010 to 2019 to create a Pedestrian Danger Index. In that time period, 260 pedestrians died in Bakersfield. The Orlando, Florida area ranked No. 1 for most dangerous. The only other California city ranked in the top 20 was Stockton.
Additionally, new data released by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows a shocking 20% increase in the pedestrian fatality rate.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents victims of pedestrian accidents, dives into this new study, why we are seeing high numbers of pedestrian accidents locally and nationally, and what can be done to fix this preventable crises.
So, what makes Bakersfield so bad? The short answer is that our streets are designed primarily for the convenience of drivers, and not the safety of pedestrians, as The Bakersfield Californian highlights.
Many places still lack the safest infrastructure for walking, the study found. For example, crosswalks, if they exist at all, are often spaced so far apart as to be impractical, or don’t provide enough time for some adults to safely cross. Wide lanes also encourage high speeds, and many streets are designed with wide turning lanes that allow cars to make right turns through crosswalks at high speed.
And the Bakersfield region has been getting worse, not better, according to Smart Growth America. Bakersfield’s previous rank in the Smart Growth America study was No. 7 deadliest city in the United States for pedestrians. The fatality rate for people walking in the lowest income neighborhoods was nearly twice that of middle income census tracts and almost three times that of neighborhoods at higher levels of income. Several incidents occurred on Union Avenue, a low-income area where crosswalks are spread apart, motorists drive fast and pedestrians regularly be seen.
To add to the problem in Bakersfield, 24/7 Wall St. ranked Bakersfield as the No. 35 worst cities to drive. Their study created an index composed of several driving-related measures to identify the worst metropolitan statistical areas for drivers, which include average commute time, regional gas prices, drunk driving death rates, overall driving fatality rates, time and money lost due to congestion, and auto theft rates.
A NATIONAL PROBLEM, TOO
Pedestrian deaths increased 45% in a decade. During this 10-year period, 53,435 people were hit and killed by drivers. In 2019, the 6,237 people struck and killed is the equivalent of more than 17 deaths per day.
And new data by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows a shocking 20% increase in the pedestrian fatality rate per billion vehicle miles traveled during the first six months of 2020.
The author of “Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America” explains why the problem is so bad: America’s road infrastructure, automotive industry and car culture collectively create dangerous conditions for walkers and bicyclists.
- America’s roads and car culture typically treat pedestrians as a nuisance.
- Multiple studies have demonstrate that SUVs are much more likely than passenger cars to kill pedestrians when collisions occur That reality, combined with the significant increase in sales of SUVs over the last several years, is contributing to the crisis.
- While experts widely agree that distracted driving is likely a factor in increased pedestrian deaths, data proving this thesis is hard to come by, in part because of insufficient police reporting.
- Less than 5% of pedestrians die when struck by a vehicle traveling less than 20 miles per hour. But for those struck by vehicles traveling 40 mph or more, the risk of death is 65%.
- Multiple studies have concluded that drivers typically don’t stop for pedestrians who are attempting to cross intersections with no traffic lights or stop signs.
- Traffic engineers generally program lights to provide enough time for people to cross at a pace of 3.5 feet per second. But the AARP, the nation’s retiree interest group, has reported that “many older people walk closer to three feet per second.”
So what can be done? Officials call this a “preventable crisis” that could be halted by policy interventions at the federal, state and local levels, according to research released this week.
“Our federal government needs to take the lead on prioritizing safer streets,” the study’s authors write. “Federal funds, policies, and guidance have a significant role to play in fixing these streets and in designing the streets we’ll build tomorrow.”
To its credit, the city of Bakersfield, the county of Kern, and others have been working at reducing the number of pedestrians who are killed or seriously injured on local roadways. Improving and creating more crosswalks — including a lighted crosswalk on 24th Street — educating pedestrians and drivers on the rules of the road and citing speeding drivers are just some efforts officials have used to help reduce pedestrian deaths.
However, researchers say that until the design of our roadways undergoes significant change, fatalities and life-altering injuries will continue. The report recommended that state and local lawmakers “prioritize projects that bring the greatest benefits to those who are suffering disproportionately,” including low-income communities and people of color.
Locally, here are a few efforts taking place:
- Walk Kern, a Kern County Public Works Department project, continues to be devoted to providing safe pedestrian and bicycle paths around Kern County.
- A “Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Plan” — a partnership with California Department of Transportation — also aimed to examine the city’s roadways to determine which are the most dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians and recommend design improvements, including more bike lanes, more signage, and new pedestrian and bike paths away from traffic. Improving and creating more crosswalks, and educating pedestrians and drivers on the rules of the road are just some efforts officials hope will help reduce pedestrian deaths.
- Chain | Cohn | Stiles, too, for years has been doing its part to raise awareness and promote bicycle and pedestrian safety. Noting a lack of lighting throughout Bakersfield at night, the law firm teams up with local bicycle advocacy nonprofit Bike Bakersfield each year to give away hundreds of free bike lights and safety helmets in a project called Project Light up the Night.
Lawmakers, the reports states, should also reassess funding and infrastructure policies to ensure that “departments of transportation…consistently plan for and construct projects for all people who use the street, including the most vulnerable.”
HOW TO STAY SAFE
Here are some safety tips that pedestrians and drivers can use to decrease accidents, and potentially save lives:
- Look out for pedestrians, especially in hard-to-see conditions such as at night or in bad weather.
- Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or entering a crosswalk where pedestrians are likely to be.
- Stop at the crosswalk stop line to give drivers in other lanes an opportunity to see and yield to the pedestrians, too.
- Be cautious when backing up; pedestrians, especially young children, can move across your path.
- Be obvious and predictable, crossing at crosswalks or intersections only, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible if there is no sidewalk
- Make eye contact with drivers; never assume a driver sees you
- Look left-right-left before stepping into a crosswalk. Having a green light or the “WALK” signal does not mean that it is safe to cross
- Look for cars baking up, including white backup lights or signs the vehicle is running.
- Don’t dart out between parked cars
- Avoid distractions. Don’t walk and use your phone at the same time
- Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials at night
- Be predictable. Follow the rules of the road, cross at crosswalks or intersections, and obey signs and signals.
- Walk facing traffic, and if there is no sidewalk, walk as far from traffic as possible.
- Pay attention to the traffic moving around you. This is not the time to be texting or talking on a cell phone.
- Make eye contact with drivers as they approach. Never assume a driver sees you.
- Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials (or use a flashlight) at night.
- Look left, right, and then left again before crossing a street.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.