LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Pedestrian deaths rose in Louisville last year to records highs, climbing even as city officials tapped a federal grant meant to improve safety for people on foot.

In all, 31 people were killed when struck by vehicles – up from 24 in 2016 and the first time such deaths have exceeded 30 in a single year, according to a WDRB News analysis of Kentucky State Police statistics that date to 2004.

The number of pedestrians who died in crashes on Louisville roads and highways increased or stayed even for the fifth straight year, the data show. Such deaths dropped slightly in Kentucky, although they remain near their highest levels in years.


But total injury collisions involving pedestrians fell for the second straight year in Louisville. There were 342 such crashes in 2017, down from 368 the year before and the fewest since 324 in 2009.

Those declines come as Metro government continued to provide education and other programs funded by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The $307,000 award will expire next month.

“It looks to be having an impact, and we’re reducing the number of actual pedestrian crashes,” said Dirk Gowin, transportation division manager in the city's public works department.

The grant has paid for outreach to pedestrians who use busy roads, along with visits to local elementary and high schools, Gowin said. Other efforts included police enforcing traffic laws at historically dangerous intersections.

At the same time, he said, a rise in severe crashes that kill or seriously injure people on foot is occurring amid pervasive cell phone use and other distractions. According to Metro government’s analysis of crash data, one-quarter of all pedestrian crashes last year were severe – the highest rate going back to 2006.

“People are going too fast. Let’s face it: Everybody is pretty comfortable adding ‘plus-10’ in the speed limit in town and they’re not paying attention,” Gowin said. “So when all of a sudden they look up, the reaction time is slowed and we’re seeing people get hurt.”

Other factors, such as texting while driving? “Pretty much rampant,” he said.

Red light running? “Out of control,” he said.

Vehicles? “More and more distracting,” he said.

In the crashes that killed pedestrians in Louisville:

--At least 40 percent occurred away from intersections (12 of the 30 collisions)

--30 percent (9 of 30) happened at intersections

--About 87 percent (26 of 30) took place at night

--Dixie Highway had the most fatal collisions (5), followed by Broadway (3)


Across Kentucky last year, there were 87 deadly crashes involving pedestrians, according to the state police data. That was down from 88 in 2016 but still higher than in past years (73 in 2015; 62 in 2014; 57 in 2013).

Kentucky’s pedestrian fatality rate – 0.85 per 100,000 people – was 17th highest in the U.S. during the first half of 2017, according to preliminary data compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association. The national average was 0.81.

Nationwide, the association reported that pedestrian deaths dropped by 4.4 percent when comparing the January-June periods of 2016 and 2017. However, such deaths in Kentucky climbed by 15 percent during that time.

In Lexington, there were nine pedestrian deaths last year compared with ten in 2016, according to data from Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. By comparison, there were three such deaths in 2015, five in 2014 and three in 2013.

After targeting pedestrian safety in 2014, officials there now have dedicated funding in the city budget for a marketing campaign and some design fixes, such as adding crosswalk markings, said Dowell Hoskins-Squier, Lexington’s commissioner of environmental quality and public works.

She said the marketing effort has encouraged people to look up from their cell phones by stenciling messages on sidewalks, for example.

Hoskins-Squier said pedestrians not crossing at crosswalks or against traffic lights are contributing to the deaths. Part of the city’s challenge is trying to change those habits.

“It’s difficult, because how do you change that behavior?” she said. “It’s tough to address some of those issues.”

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