Road fatality statistics underscore the safety needs of pedestrians in OKC

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The animated traffic light on the Oklahoma Highway Safety website is flashing green, indicating that traffic-related deaths in the state are currently down compared to the same time last year, but that only tells part of the story.

Though this year’s numbers for Oklahoma City are on track to be at least slightly below the final 2021 totals, a look at the city’s categorized breakdown of road deaths reveals a worrying trend:

The number of pedestrian fatalities in traffic accidents in OKC is consistently among the very highest in the data, at best second only to multi-car accidents, and at worst actually equaling that number for the deadliest category.

Heavy vehicle traffic in OKC creates a dangerous environment for those walking. (B.DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

According to traffic fatality numbers collected by the Oklahoma City Police Department, 2021 was the only year in which the number of deaths from multi-car accidents far exceeded pedestrian deaths, as did car use and traffic of all kinds saw a significant increase in nationwide shutdowns following COVID-19 distancing in 2020.

So far this year, as throughout 2020, pedestrian death counts have almost perfectly paralleled deaths in multi-car accidents in OKC – with 19 deaths in both categories as of October 5 – raising questions about what roads can be like be made safer and how urban walkability could be improved.

“An Afterthought”

As president of the Uptown 23rd District Association and Ward 2’s official representative for the Citizens Committee for Community Development, Chelsea Banks spends a lot of time thinking about how to improve safety and accessibility for OKC pedestrians.

“Pedestrian safety is an afterthought in Oklahoma City,” Banks told me. “I walk as much as possible, but I still have a car and still use it almost every day. The way our city is distributed, we naturally need cars just because the infrastructure is aligned. It is very much based on car traffic in general.”

A Bricktown visitor rushes to W. Reno at Mickey Mantle Dr. while someone stands up with her to attract the attention of those waiting at the light. (B.DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Banks looked to other urban centers across the country to look for ways to rethink the city’s infrastructure and street planning to prioritize foot traffic and safe walking.

“There are a lot of different cities that use things like bump-outs and leading pedestrian intervals,” she said. “And these are just small changes. A bump-out would be a type of large turn, usually at an intersection, that creates a kind of barrier between car traffic and the people on the sidewalks. Leading pedestrian intervals would be programmed at a four-second interval when you press the crosswalk sign, leaving the lights for the cars not activating for a full four seconds. Some places even have them up to 10 seconds, so Oklahoma City has a long way to go.”

First hand report

For Banks, understanding the risks and potential dangers of the city’s car-centric infrastructure is far more than just anecdotal.

In August 2020, she was hit by a car while trying to cross the intersection of NW 23rd and Walker on foot.

“This is a street I cross all the time and we take my son across this crossing to go to school,” she said. “This is a very familiar place to me, and as we were crossing the street, a driver in a car pulled to the left, not avoiding us. If me and my husband hadn’t noticed and observed this, I probably wouldn’t be here, because she was just coming through the intersection and had no regard for the fact that there could even be a human there.”

Chelsea Banks

Banks was fortunate to only sustain minor injuries – with some permanent damage to her arm – but it was enough to make it clear action needed to be taken. Shortly thereafter, a four-second leading pedestrian spacing was added to the traffic lights at that intersection.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “what I feel like in this situation is that we’re so distracted and so busy driving a motorized vehicle that our roads are currently only optimized for doing anything except driving will get you from point A to point B.”

That mentality could soon change for 23rd Street, however, as the borough will see a major street renovation in 2023, the result of a 2017 bond initiative aimed at widening sidewalks, improving walkability, and on-street parking reduce and remove median strips, a move to promote driver awareness.

walkability rating

The nationwide website Walk Score (part of the Redfin real estate platform) applies a weighted numerical score to cities based on the ease and safety of walking for things like errands, commuting and outdoor recreation. This level of “walkability” has become an increasingly popular selling point for urban areas, particularly among younger residents.

OKC currently has a walk score of just 34 out of a possible 100 points, and ranks only 44th in a list of major cities across the country.

The only OKC neighborhoods currently receiving a walkability score greater than 80 are the Paseo, Mesta Park, and the Corridor South area of ​​Classen between NW 30th and NW 36th.

OKC’s “Walk Score” of 34 still dwarfs the city’s “Transit Score” when looking at public transit across the city, which currently sits at a dismal low 17.

“As the city grows and changes, more and more people will be looking for multimodal access,” Banks said, examining the primarily car-centric infrastructure that OKC is currently defining. “It’s not a crazy thought that as the city expands and grows, more and more people don’t have cars or just don’t want that lifestyle.”


Last updated October 9, 2022 8:59 am by Brett Dickerson – Editor

  • “Brett Fieldcamp has been covering Oklahoma arts, entertainment, news and culture for nearly 15 years and writes for several local and state publications. He is also a musician and songwriter and holds a Spirits Specialist certification from the Society of Wine Educators.”

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