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Editorial: NM a very dangerous place to be a pedestrian

Albuquerque and New Mexico have led the nation in some unpleasant statistics in recent years. Deaths from drug overdoses, reliance on Medicaid and SNAP, and poor student achievement likely come to mind.

But there’s one that’s more immediate and final.

It’s being hit by a car and dying.

Back in 2014, things were grim for folks who traveled on their two feet. New Mexico was No. 1 in pedestrian deaths, with 74, according to a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association released in 2016. After a dip to 55 in 2015, that number has only gone up: 77 pedestrian deaths in 2016, 79 in 2017, 83 in 2018.

Now consider those are just the pedestrians who died.

In Albuquerque alone, more than 400 people were struck by vehicles in 2018; 34 died from their injuries. Just this week a man died crossing a street in the Northeast Heights. Central and Coors have been the most dangerous places to walk along or try to cross. (And Mayor Tim Keller’s administration wants to host art shows and concerts in the middle of Central till the ART buses get here?)

Of the 385 traffic crash deaths statewide last year, more than a fifth, 21.6 percent, were pedestrians hit by cars, trucks, SUVs, etc. And while law enforcement and traffic safety officials aren’t entirely sure why New Mexico has so many pedestrian deaths, pedestrian error is near, if not at, the top of the list. Albuquerque police Lt. Zak Cottrell says every crash is investigated to determine fault, and officers factor in lighting, car speed and driver intoxication, but one thing stands out above the rest: “The biggest thing is where is the pedestrian – is the pedestrian in an area where they should be, or are they mid-block where a driver isn’t expecting to see somebody crossing the road?”

In New Mexico, pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks and lighted intersections, but even that makes for a pretty sad epitaph: “He/she had the right of way.”

Traffic safety advocates like Scot Key, creator of Better Burque, a group that strives to make Albuquerque safer for cyclists and pedestrians, would like to see the city continue improvements that would slow drivers down and make streets more “walkable” – with more crosswalks, lower speed limits, better bus stop access and additional lighting. All that takes money and the will to change. In the interim, job No. 1 has to be for everyone to do a better job of obeying the rules of the road, for drivers to pay attention and keep their eyes off their phones, and for pedestrians to cross at crosswalks or intersections and follow what parents have been hollering for decades: “Look both ways.”

Because the Land of Enchantment should not be the land where you’re most likely to get hit by a car and die.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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