Tennessee Pedestrian and Bicyclist Deaths Surpass 20-Year High | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Pedestrian and Bicyclist Deaths Surpass 20-Year High

Dec 30, 2015

It’s been an especially deadly year for Tennessee pedestrians and bicyclists. Even though traffic fatalities are on pace to be down again in 2015, more people on foot and riding bikes died than in any year since the mid 1990s.

Shown this year’s stats — 120 pedestrians and bicyclists killed as of Dec. 29 — the numbers surprised Mary-Pat Teague, chairwoman of Metro’s Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).

“Oh, wow … this is horrible,” she began, “I know it’s bad. It’s really horrible. It’s just heartbreaking.”

Like others, Teague is sorting out what’s happening in Tennessee and what can change.

Six pedestrians died in Nashville in November and December, raising alarm among advocates and a new round of questions about why some people continue to be injured or killed on infamously dangerous streets, like Harding Place.

Teague said she believes road designs can be safer.

“A couple of these recent fatalities … people were crossing the street mid-block, out of a crosswalk — always very dangerous — but they were crossing because that’s where the bus stop was,” she said.

Nashville Considers 'Vision Zero'

The BPAC, along with the non-profit Walk Bike Nashville, has been considering a move toward a "Vision Zero," program that strives for zero fatalities.

Teague said the program, as adopted in other cities, typically includes an education campaign about safe crossings, an analysis of speed limits in known danger areas, and engineering changes that try to anticipate driver errors.

“[Police] are doing everything they can to investigate and look at these issues, but they need help with policy changes, I believe,” said Teague, noting that several Metro departments work together on pedestrian safety.

Tennessee pedestrian and cyclists deaths since 1994.
Credit Tennessee Highway Patrol

Deaths Worry State

While Metro examines crosswalks and police enforcement, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is also making pedestrian safety a priority in 2016.

Lt. Bill Miller said he worries about distraction — and not just for drivers.

“Is there something that we can do to better educate the public as to the dangers that are involved with walking and being distracted at the same time?”

Miller says it’s an urgent challenge because 10 percent of roadway fatalities now involve people outside of vehicles.

More: See map of Tennessee pedestrian fatalities, 2012-2014

In urban areas, Miller called attention to drivers making right turns at red lights. In rural areas, he pointed to narrow road shoulders as a risk.

“We are, unfortunately, being hit very hard with non-motorized and pedestrian fatalities,” he said. “That is going to be one of our primary areas of focus in 2016.”

For those behind the wheel, state officials said drunk-driving fatalities were down to their lowest point since 1962. Still, officers would be out for extra DUI enforcement through Jan. 3.

The overall rate of traffic fatalities has fallen steadily for years, and in raw numbers, fewer than 1,000 Tennesseans died statewide in each of the past three years.

Since 1982, when federal data are available, the deadliest year for Tennessee pedestrians and bicyclists was 1984, when 145 were killed. That came during a decade that averaged 120 such deaths per year.

View the locations of pedestrian deaths in the Nashville-area since 2012:

Tennessee pedestrian fatalities, by location, 2012 through 2015.
Credit National Highway Transportation Safety Administration