Florida Grapples With Its Deadly Hit-and-Run Car Culture


Florida Grapples With Its Deadly Hit-and-Run Car Culture

Ashley Nicole Valdes was a smart, pretty 11-year-old girl who often cared
for her younger, mentally disabled sister while their single mother studied
to be a paramedic. In January, while crossing the street to get to her home
west of Miami, Ashley was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in a
pickup truck — and became a heart-wrenching symbol of South Florida’s
notoriously reckless car culture. “You see all these people getting run over
and you ask yourself what’s happened to us as people here,” says Ashley’s
mother, Adonay Risete. “We need to get tougher and change attitudes.” See Time.com/Travel for city guides, stories and advice.

This month, highway-hugging Floridians are seeing perhaps the
most convincing evidence yet that they need an attitude adjustment. A study
by the non-profit Transportation For America in Washington, D.C., lists the
most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians, and the worst four just happen to be in
the Sunshine State: Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. It may seem like an
astonishing find, but it’s not actually all that surprising: 490 pedestrians were killed by
cars in Florida last year, the most in any state, and South Florida
consistently ranks as one of the worst pockets for hit-and-run fatalities.
For an entire nation that has given the automobile far too much right-of-way, the TFA report, titled Dangerous by Design, makes it clear
that Florida is a cautionary tale. It’s especially relevant during the
current recession, when the U.S. is also looking to alternative
transportation projects like passenger rail to help jumpstart the economy.
“We’re not saying paralyze traffic or penalize drivers,” says TFA spokesman
David Goldberg. “But we have to restore some balance in this country and fix
this deadly situation, especially for the health and safety of our kids and
senior citizens.”

It’s not just deadly in Florida. Each month, about 400 pedestrians are
fatally cut down by cars across the U.S. — “the equivalent of a jumbo jet
crash,” Goldberg notes — and 76,000 have been killed that way since 1994,
one of the highest pedestrian-death rates in the world. The root cause is
simple: the thoughtless sprawl of modern urban and suburban development has created
too much high-speed space for cars and trucks, and too little of it for
walkers, cyclists and the kind of public transit that
reduces dependence on cars. Dangerous by Design finds, for example, that
less than 1.5% of federal transportation safety spending goes to pedestrian
projects like increased sidewalk construction or cycling paths, even though pedestrians and
cyclists account for 13% of all U.S. traffic deaths. See pictures of American muscle cars in movies.

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