Pima County Health Department looking at data to find solutions to pedestrian deaths

TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) – A recent study shows Tucson/Pima County has some of the most dangerous streets in the country.

Tucson ranks as the third-most deadly metro area behind only Memphis and Albuquerque.

The metro area saw 322 pedestrian deaths from 2013 to 2022 but 67% of those came from 2018 to 2022. That is a significant increase in the past few years.

Why the increase and what to do about it may fall to a new office created by the Pima County Health Department called the Office of Injury and Violence Prevention.

As its name implies, it covers a lot of ground including gun violence and drug abuse. Right now, it’s also trying to determine why the roadways are so dangerous to pedestrians.

“Just over 75% of the deaths in the past year involved folks crossing outside the crosswalk,” said Mark Person, a Program Manager for Community Mental Health and Addiction.

While the preponderance of drug deaths is the top issue the new office will tackle, pedestrian deaths are not far behind and data shows there is likely a strong correlation.

“Regardless of what we’re looking at, 75% of these involve someone under the influence, or potentially under the influence, so that is something that you can’t ignore,” Person said.

And by not ignoring it leads to the question, is it because there has been an increase in drug use which has caused pedestrians to be less aware of their surroundings?

Or is it something like an increase in speed, distracted driving, an increase in the homeless population with more people walking on the streets?

It’s that kind of data the new office hopes to collect to help policymakers.

“So that’s the goal,” Person said. “We want this data and trends to be visible to other people and we want the folks who do this work to be sure the intelligence that some of this data would bring, to get out there and do some work on these issues.”

For instance, two teen pedestrians have been killed trying to cross Interstate 10 in Marana in the past year.

The new office has already brought together traffic engineers, public safety, the town of Marana and others to discuss how to prevent future deaths.

“Kids are not great at calculating risk in general, they are natural risk takers,” Person said. “And what we want to do is have that education out there so people understand the risk involved.”

But it’s likely to take more than education — fencing or barriers may play a role in reducing the risks.

Another concern is whether the increase in the homeless population on the streets may be adding to pedestrian deaths. That is not conclusive but it is worth a look.

“Less than 30%, 30 to 35% of the decedents are homeless,” he said. “Which is a decent size number but obviously there’s a lot more to it than just whether a person is homeless or not.”

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