South Carolina has been ranked the 10th most dangerous place in the United States for pedestrians in a joint report published this week by The National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America.
While it's an improvement on last year's No. 7 rank, the state's place on the top 10 list underscores the profound lack of pedestrian infrastructure in South Carolina.
The annual report, called Dangerous by Design, analyzed states' data on how many people were killed by cars from 2008-17. It created a danger index by factoring in the rate of pedestrian deaths per population size, as well as the estimated total of walking trips.
Even though more people were killed walking in other states, the index indicates pedestrians are more likely to die while walking in South Carolina than the majority of other states.
Over the past decade, drivers across the country killed 49,340 pedestrians — more than 13 people per day, according to the report. That's 35 percent higher than the death rate in the previous decade, but it's not because people are walking more often, and people are driving only slightly more often.
The report concluded that streets are more deadly for people on foot because roads continue to be designed and built primarily for high-speed vehicles.
That's especially true for the Charleston region, which accounted for more than 20 percent of bicycle and pedestrian crashes between 2009-2017, according to a study commissioned last year by the Palmetto Cycling Coalition.
Despite plans to turn high-speed roadways into "complete streets" with space for pedestrians and other modes of transportation, progress has been slow, as The Post and Courier has reported in an analysis of the long-standing problem.
The S.C. Department of Transportation’s main goal in planning Charleston area streets has been to move cars as quickly and efficiently as possible. Accommodating bikes and pedestrians is often at odds with that goal, because it requires traffic to slow down and share the right of way.
The national report found that people of color and senior citizens are more likely to be killed by walking, especially in low-income communities. That mirrors the trend reported in the coalition's state report, which found that about half of pedestrians struck by cars were African-American, even though the state's population is only 25 percent African-American.
"The main way to address this inequitable lack of mobility options is to build streets that are 'complete,' which means they are safe and connected for people to not only drive, but also bike and walk and wait for the bus," said Katie Zimmerman, executive director of the mobility nonprofit Charleston Moves.
Nearly all the states in the report's top 10 list are in the South, except for Delaware, ranked at No. 3, and New Mexico at No. 7. Florida came in at No. 1.
The researchers found Southern states were more likely to have sprawling, suburban growth patterns with wider roads and large blocks, which have been linked to higher rates of traffic deaths.
There are some efforts on the local and state levels in South Carolina to address the problem.
DOT has budgeted $5 million for pedestrian improvements, which will be prioritized in areas with the highest death rates.
In the Charleston region, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments has formed a new transportation group to focus on safety.
The city of Charleston has recently been vocal about the need for changes, and is slowing down traffic where it has jurisdiction to make public spaces safer for pedestrians.
However, it's a challenge for local officials to address these issues because most roads are owned and maintained by DOT, so every new project hinges on what the department’s district offices will approve. In most cases, local officials don’t have the authority to lower speed limits, or to add new traffic lights or crosswalks.