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Death traps


This is a grimly fascinating look at the deadliest stretch of roadway in America (three guesses which state it’s in and the first two don’t count.) Needless to say, it’s also reflective of deep-seated national problems:

Robert Schneider, a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, has never driven on this part of US-19. But amid a rise in pedestrian deaths across the country, Schneider and three of his colleagues — Rebecca Sanders, Frank Proulx, and Hamideh Moayyed — decided to look at the data on pedestrian deaths to try to find out where they were happening most frequently. Using information from the government’s database of fatal car crashes, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, Schneider and his colleagues looked at all the pedestrian deaths recorded between 2001 and 2016. The idea was to identify hot spots: 1,000-meter segments of roadway where six or more pedestrians were killed over two eight-year periods. “We thought: What can we find out about the places where these fatalities happened?” Schneider says. There would likely be similarities, he assumed, which could point to potential safety improvements. “One thing we wanted to shed light on is that they truly aren’t random.”

They were expecting to find some overlap. But one road came up so many times that the results, Schneider says, were “eye-popping.” Out of the 60 hot spots they identified as having a high number of deaths, seven of them were on US-19 in Pasco County alone — more than any other road in the United States. “When you add the numbers up, that’s 137 pedestrian fatalities over the entire Pasco County. That’s an incredibly high number,” Schneider says. “If an airplane crashed there and 137 people died, people would know about it,” he says.

The study looked at deaths through 2016 — the most recent year finalized data was available. But a Vox analysis of open-source data from the Florida Department of Transportation showed that pedestrian fatalities have continued to be a problem: 48 people have been killed in car crashes that involved pedestrians on US-19 in Pasco County between 2017 and June 2022.


If accidents are supposed to be random, Singer says, “then accidental death would be evenly distributed across the country — but it’s not.” Schneider’s study showed that pedestrian deaths aren’t random, either. The places with the most pedestrian deaths tend to look like US-19 in one way or another: high-speed, with multiple lanes, and lots of commercial and residential development around them. Three-quarters of them are bordered by low-income areas, where people may be less likely to have access to a car. They are in places as diverse as Langley Park, Maryland; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Manhattan, New York; and Los Angeles, California. They’re places where pedestrians are forced to cross roads that are dangerous by design, alongside trucks and SUVs that are getting bigger and deadlier all the time.

One of the more distinctive aspects of American culture is the sheer amount of avoidable accidental death a majority of people can learn to live with or ignore.

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