The Happiest -- and Deadliest -- Place on Earth

Aug. 26, 2011
Thanks no doubt to the presence of about a gazillion theme parks, strip malls and fast-food restaurants, Orlando, Florida, is often cited (at least by travel agents) as the happiest place on Earth. Maybe so, or at least until the credit card bills start ...

Thanks no doubt to the presence of about a gazillion theme parks, strip malls and fast-food restaurants, Orlando, Florida, is often cited (at least by travel agents) as the happiest place on Earth. Maybe so, or at least until the credit card bills start arriving the month after the visits to Disney/Universal/Sea World come due. But here's a distinction the city certainly doesn't plan to highlight in its promotional literature: Orlando is said to be the most dangerous city in the United States for pedestrians.

Transportation for America (T4 America), a political action group that tends to lean to the left, has put together something it calls the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), which calculates the risk to pedestrians in the nation's largest metropolitan areas. The PDI, the group explains, "computes the rate of pedestrian deaths relative to the amount of walking in that area, correcting for the fact that the cities where more people walk on a daily basis are likely to have a greater number of pedestrian fatalities." As T4 America sees it, "the most dangerous places to walk are the communities failing to make smart infrastructure investments that make roads safer for everyone."

The numbers have been tweaked quite a bit for Orlando to end up as the deadliest city. In terms of total pedestrian fatalities, the "winner" is exactly who you'd think it would be: New York City, with 3,485 deaths in the previous decade (2000-2009). Metro Los Angeles was second, with 2,533, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale came in third at 1,555. Chicago and Houston round up the top five. Orlando is nowhere near that range of fatalities, coming in at 557.

So how did Orlando, where most of the walking seems to occur within theme parks where no cars are allowed, end up holding down the top spot on the PDI? As best as I can interpret T4 America's findings, the answer is: politics. The group is a strong advocate in favor of walking and biking trails, and tends to take a dim few of communities "where roads are designed solely to move traffic and where pedestrians are viewed as an obstacle."

Thus, New York ranks very low on the PDI, ranking 50th on the list (just above IndustryWeek's hometown of Cleveland, which had only 139 pedestrian deaths in the past decade) because it followed T4 America's advice by spending federal tax dollars to create pedestrian refuge islands and curb extensions. Also, New York wins points because 6.1% of its workers walk to work, by far the largest average among all big cities. I'm not quite clear on if that means "walks from a train station, subway stop or cab to their office" or if it literally means "lives in the city and walks to their job nearby without taking public transportation." Probably somewhere in between.

Only 1.2% of Orlando's workers walk to their jobs, which is the lowest percentage on the list. So using T4 America's somewhat twisted logic, "the few people who do walk in Orlando face a relatively high risk of being killed in a traffic crash." So if Orlando starts spending tax dollars on some bike trails and other infrastructure upgrades, presumably its PDI score will improve.

For what it's worth, here is T4 America's ranking of the deadliest U.S. cities for pedestrians (as you'll note, all of them are in warm-weather locations):

1. Orlando/Kissimmee, FL
2. Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, FL
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano, FL
5. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario, CA
6. Las Vegas/Paradise, NV
7. Memphis, TN
8. Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, AZ
9. Houston/Sugar Land/Baytown, TX
10. Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, TX

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