On the News Journal’s Facebook page, the post associated with the article prompted dozens of emphatic comments like these:
David Knisley wrote: “Deadliest state or dumbest state? Well if you don’t try playing frogger it wouldn’t be the deadliest state.”
Charles Norris Jr. wrote: “Why doesn’t the state qualify for additional federal money to fight the problem? — explanation, can’t fix stupid! Do you REALLY believe the A.H. in the picture would use a designated crosswalk? Some people need to face facts, you can’t protect people from making stupid choices!”
Nicki Yoder wrote: “More like dumbest state. Had someone walk out on the highway in dover just the other day. He was in no hurry to get across like he was daring someone to hit him.”
Fran Ellsworth wrote: “People are just stupid they forget there are cars moving on the road. Move it when you are crossing.”
Karen Ridgeway wrote: “No amount of federal money can fix STUPIDITY!”
Nathan Finn-Medley wrote: “Darwinism 101”
Call it the Grand Unified Motorist Theory of Dead Pedestrians: They are stupid. They deserved to die. And perhaps it’s just as well for the rest of us that they have been removed from the gene pool.
These comments reminded me of the death a few years back of Michael Gropp.
Michael Gropp was 16 years old when he was killed crossing Route 273, a high-speed, four lane suburban arterial road that slices between a couple of subdivisions east of Newark. He was killed fairly late at night, about 10PM, and I recall that the initial News Journal story also prompted many angry comments questioning why he was crossing Route 273 late at night. What was he doing out so late at night? Isn’t that suspicious? It turned out that there was actually nothing suspicious going on. In an interview after the crash Michael Gropp’s girlfriend explained that he was just walking her home from the subdivision where he lived on one side of Route 273 to the subdivision that his girlfriend lived in on the other side of Route 273:
If I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Knisley, Mr. Norris, Ms. Yoder, Ms. Ellsworth, Ms. Ridgeway and Mr. Finn-Medley, I would have a few questions for them. Why do you think that Delaware’s pedestrians are so stupid? Why are they, for example, stupider than California pedestrians? Texas pedestrians? Colorado pedestrians? Was 16-year old Michael Gropp stupid? Is it something in our water? And (if they were still listening) if Delaware has the stupidest pedestrians in America, what does that say about the rest of the state? Is Delaware as a whole just the stupidest state in America? Or is it just an isolated sub-population of morons walking around and hurling their bodies in front of fast-moving cars for no good reason while the rest of us are okey-dokey?
If Mr. Knisley, Mr. Norris, Ms. Yoder, Ms. Ellsworth, Ms. Ridgeway and Mr. Finn-Medley were still interested in continuing a conversation I would point out to them that there is an alternative explanation for Delaware’s catastrophically high level of pedestrian carnage that does not require us to hypothesize that we have a unique class of moronic pedestrians compared to other states.
To understand this alternative explanation we have to understand that the problem of dead pedestrians is not evenly distributed around the state. The problem is mostly not in Kent County or Sussex County. It’s mostly not a problem of Wilmington or Dover. Newark, with its 10s of thousands of UD students crowding its streets at all hours of the day and night, is also not the main locus of the problem. In Delaware, pedestrians are mostly being killed in suburban New Castle County.
In fact the problem is even more specific. It’s not suburban New Castle County in general. Rather, pedestrians are mostly being killed on a relatively small number of high-speed, multi-lane arterial “corridors” in suburban New Castle County (e.g. Kirkwood Highway, Dupont Highway, Concord Pike, Pulaski Highway, etc.). And it’s not all hours of the day either. During rush hour, traffic volume is high, cars are traveling more slowly, motorists (surrounded by large numbers of high-speed vehicles) are driving more cautiously, pedestrians are more wary and visibility is better. Pedestrians are more often killed during off-peak hours – particularly in the evening – when these corridors are relatively empty. Cars are traveling faster, motorists are driving less cautiously, pedestrians are more tempted to make mid-block (unsignalized) crossings due to the low level of traffic and visibility is worse.
The fundamental problem is we are trying to get these corridors to function as two incompatible things.
On the one hand, we want them to be high-speed roads. The Delaware Department of Transportation has designed (and posted speed limits along) them for cars and trucks to travel nearly as fast as on our limited access highways.
At the same time we want them to be platforms for commerce and development and New Castle County has zoned the land alongside them for strip malls, offices and hotels. We want them, from an economic point-of-view, to be streets.
Trying to get them to function as both a road and a street, however, we end up instead with something which is less than the sum of its parts. With regard to economic development, these corridors generate a relatively low level of economic activity due to a combination of the low density of the development combined with the economic sterility of the vast amounts of acreage given over to parking lots. With regard to transportation, these corridors are far more dangerous than our limited access freeways, to motorists as well as pedestrians.
Kirkwood Highway, Dupont Highway and other similar corridors end up being neither good roads nor good streets. Instead, they are a malfunctioning hybrid of the two: a “stroad.”
But the more we develop alongside stroads in Delaware the more we tend to create origins and destinations that generate even more pedestrian trips across them. And many pedestrians start those trips but never make it to their destination, ending their lives in crashes somewhere between the two curbs of a Delaware stroad.
In other words, the problem is not that pedestrians are stupid and should be removed from the gene pool. The real problem is that stroads are stupid and should be removed from our inventory of infrastructure.
James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware.
• Delaware is America’s Deadliest State for Pedestrians (News Journal)