WASHINGTON -- Walking may be healthy exercise, but going for a stroll in Florida can often be deadly.
Four of the five metropolitan areas considered the most dangerous for pedestrians are in Florida, with the Tampa region leading the list, according to a study released by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a Washington-based environmental group that advocates alternatives to driving.
Analyzing federal data from 1997 and 1998, the group found Atlanta was the second most dangerous urban area for walking, followed by three in Florida: Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville. Rounding out the top 10 were Phoenix; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Dallas; and New Orleans.
The authors of the ''Mean Streets 2000'' report charge that sprawling development, including wide roads without sidewalks or frequent crosswalks, has put more pedestrians at risk.
''We're spending a minuscule amount of our transportation money trying to solve this problem. All of the energy and resources goes to making it safer for people inside the car,'' said Roy Kienitz, executive director of the project. ''As a result, driving is getting safer, but walking is not getting any safer.''
Inadequate planning and spending for pedestrians also deters people from walking, which contributes to health problems related to inactivity, he said.
The project study used a ''pedestrian danger index,'' which seeks to rate relative safety. Using Census information on the number of people walking to work, the group calculated pedestrian safety based on fatalities relative to the number of people walking.
It said the number of trips taken on foot has dropped 42 percent in the past 20 years. Americans took less than 6 percent of their trips on foot in 1997 and 1998, while pedestrians accounted for 13 percent of all traffic deaths. Of those nearly 11,000 deaths, more than 1,500 were children.
Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said he hadn't seen the study and couldn't comment.
Of the 47 regions listed, the report said the three safest cities for pedestrians were Pittsburgh, Boston and Rochester, N.Y.
Walking is more dangerous in newer Southern and Western metro areas designed for fast automobile travel, Kienitz said. These sprawling communities have wider roads with fewer sidewalks and places to cross.
The study found that of the pedestrian deaths where location information was recorded, 59 percent occurred in places without a crosswalk, and another 19 percent outside a crosswalk. Ten percent occurred in a crosswalk, while 7 percent took place on the shoulder of a road.
The study recommends that states match the proportion they spend on pedestrian safety to the proportion of traffic deaths that involve pedestrians. It also suggests that communities survey their streets to identify problem areas, make sure new streets have sidewalks, and create ''traffic calming'' programs to slow the speed of drivers on local streets.
The study also found that the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island region had the largest number of pedestrian deaths, with 869, followed by the Los Angeles-Anaheim-Riverside region with 737 deaths.
On the Net: The Surface Transportation Policy Project: http://www.transact.org
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/
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