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“Stupid Pedestrians” Aren’t Causing the High Death Toll on Delaware Streets

11:31 AM EDT on October 20, 2015

According to new data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Delaware is the most dangerous state for pedestrians per capita. Already this year, 28 people have been killed while walking in the tiny Mid-Atlantic state, about twice the national average, according to the News Journal.

Michael Gropp, 16, was killed trying to cross a high-speed, wide road in Delaware. His death is part of a systemic problem. Image: NBC Philadelphia
Michael Gropp, 16, was killed trying to cross a wide, high-speed road in Delaware. His death is part of a systemic problem. Image: NBC Philadelphia

Predictably, the comments on the story are disgusting, notes James Wilson at Bike Delaware. A lot of people who weighed in concluded that the victims of these collisions are -- drum roll -- stupid and jumping in front of cars. Wilson responds:

Call it the Grand Unified Motorist Theory of Dead Pedestrians: They are stupid. They deserved to die. And perhaps it’s just as well for the rest of us that they have been removed from the gene pool.

These comments reminded me of the death a few years back of Michael Gropp.

Michael Gropp was 16 years old when he was killed crossing Route 273, a high-speed, four lane suburban arterial road that slices between a couple of subdivisions east of Newark. He was killed fairly late at night, about 10PM, and I recall that the initial News Journal story also prompted many angry comments questioning why he was crossing Route 273 late at night. What was he doing out so late at night? Isn’t that suspicious? It turned out that there was actually nothing suspicious going on. In an interview after the crash, Michael Gropp’s girlfriend explained that he was just walking her home from the subdivision where he lived on one side of Route 273 to the subdivision that his girlfriend lived in on the other side of Route 273.

What Delaware does have in spades are dangerous, high-speed roads that go through residential and commercial areas, he says:

The problem of dead pedestrians is not evenly distributed around the state. The problem is mostly not in Kent County or Sussex County. It’s mostly not a problem of Wilmington or Dover. Newark, with its 10s of thousands of UD students crowding its streets at all hours of the day and night, is also not the main locus of the problem. In Delaware, pedestrians are mostly being killed in suburban New Castle County.

In fact the problem is even more specific. It’s not suburban New Castle County in general. Rather, pedestrians are mostly being killed on a relatively small number of high-speed, multi-lane arterial corridors in suburban New Castle County (e.g. Kirkwood Highway, Dupont Highway, Concord Pike, Pulaski Highway, etc.). And it’s not all hours of the day either. During rush hour, traffic volume is high, cars are traveling more slowly, motorists (surrounded by large numbers of high-speed vehicles) are driving more cautiously and pedestrians are more wary. Pedestrians are more often killed during off-peak hours when these corridors are relatively empty. Cars are traveling faster, motorists are driving less cautiously and pedestrians are more tempted to make mid-block (unsignalized) crossings due to the low level of traffic.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Articulate Discontent says that if enacted, two development-related ballot measures in Boulder will exclude lower-income people from the city. Systemic Failure relays the news that Toronto police covered up ex-mayor Rob Ford's DUIs. And Transport Providence offers some suggestions for Bernie Sanders about how to improve his transportation platform.

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