ARLINGTON -- Since suffering a stroke several years ago, Ezequiel Villarreal uses a battery-powered chair to get around. But it's not always the numbness on the right side of his body that makes it hard to navigate his neighborhood.He also deals with an array of seemingly bizarre obstacles in central Arlington, including telephone poles and drainpipes protruding from sidewalks.Villarreal often crosses Randol Mill Road at midblock instead of a crosswalk, where the impediments are a problem. His slow-moving chair raises the ire of impatient motorists."I can't get the traffic to stop," Villarreal, 68, said on a recent morning after negotiating four lanes of traffic to get to his bank and pharmacy near Randol Mill and North Collins Street. "There are so many places where I can turn over."Villarreal's struggle to get around his neighborhood is a small example of what advocates say is a continued failure of transportation officials in North Texas and nationwide to build street-side paths sufficient to keep people safe.Pedestrian safety isn't an issue just for the disabled. Active, healthy people nationwide continue to get run over.While automobile fatalities overall have dropped to their lowest level since 1949, deaths involving pedestrians are on the rise, statistics kept by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show. Nationwide, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in 2010, the most recent year available. That's a 4.2 percent increase over the 4,109 deaths in 2009.The increase in pedestrian injuries is even more startling. In 2010, 70,000 were hurt, a 19 percent increase from 59,000 in 2009.Dallas-Fort Worth is the 10th-most-dangerous U.S. metro area for pedestrians, according to Transportation for America, a coalition of housing, business, environmental and other groups that pushes for more mobility funding in Washington. The Metroplex had 942 pedestrian fatalities in 2000-09, based on the coalition's analysis of federal highway reports.Some examples of the perilous conditions for pedestrians:In Arlington, at least seven people have been killed trying to cross South Cooper Street since 2000, a review of federal data and Star-Telegram archives shows. Victims represent a cross section of the population, ranging from a 32-year-old Hispanic woman to an 80-year-old Anglo man.In North Richland Hills, a 28-year-old Weatherford woman was killed at 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday in 2006 while trying to cross a six-lane stretch of Rufe Snow Drive near a convenience store. A 17-year-old boy drove the car, a Honda Civic.In Fort Worth, at least six people have been run over since 2000 on East Lancaster Avenue, in an area of the city where public transportation is widely used but good sidewalks are often lacking.CompromiseAdvocates for better sidewalks, hike-and-bike trails and other walker-friendly improvements say a big part of the blame lies with Congress, which late last week reached a compromise on the first long-term federal transportation program since 2005, covering roughly $109 billion in obligations through Sept. 30, 2014.Instead of encouraging cities and states to spend more money making streets safer for pedestrians, the bill allows states to opt out of the funding normally used to offset the cost of construction and instead use it on a variety of other projects -- which may have little or nothing to do with walkability."Two-thirds of fatalities are happening on roadways built with federal money or designed under federal guidelines, and for the federal program to then turn its back on the local communities and say, 'It's your problem' doesn't seem entirely fair," said David Goldberg, spokesman for Transportation for America.The bill includes only about $750 million annually for pedestrian improvements under a new category, transportation alternatives, which includes projects formerly under the Safe Routes to School, transportation enhancements and recreational trails programs. In previous years, those projects collectively amounted to about $1.1 billion annually, officials said.The bill also calls for half that money to go directly to cities and regions, while states can spend the rest on whatever projects they choose."The good news is, local officials will have more say over that money, but it's more say over a smaller pot of money," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America.FlexibilityBut U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, doesn't necessarily agree that less money is being spent on pedestrian safety.For example, he said, the Tower 55 project in Fort Worth is a $104 million task -- $34 million of which is covered by federal funds -- that aims mainly to improve freight railroad movement through the city's center.But, Burgess noted, the project also includes improvements to railroad crossings in the Rock Island/Samuels Avenue neighborhood just north of downtown, where children cross under rail cars blocking intersections on their way to school.Also, Burgess said, he worked with Fort Worth and the Texas Transportation Department to improve East Rosedale Street. By definition, that isn't a pedestrian improvement project, but it does provide better street crossings near Texas Wesleyan University and Polytechnic High School.As for the money in the new bill, Burgess said: "At this time, no one has the money to build everything they want. A far better use of our funds is to give flexibility to people in our cities and counties."Many say it's not the federal government's job to build walking paths.The U.S. highway trust fund takes in about $35 billion a year, primarily from an 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal motor fuels tax. Yet Congress routinely allocates much more than that to cover its members' mobility pet projects.The transportation bill doesn't include earmarks for pet projects. But even so, given the state of the economy and the federal government, it's difficult to justify spending federal transportation dollars on anything more than maintenance and repair of crumbling highways and bridges, one Frisco-based logistics executive said."The only money the government has is what it takes from us and what they borrow from China," said Tom Sanderson, chief executive officer of Transplace, a Frisco company that manages freight delivery for companies such as Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins."For the government to fund Dallas and Fort Worth bike paths and sidewalks, they just don't have the money to do that."Many cities are taking it upon themselves to build better walking paths.Last year, Arlington officials approved a $55.3 million long-term plan to promote walking and cycling. It includes 125 miles of bike lanes and paths and 145 miles of sidewalk improvements.The sidewalk portion is expected to cost roughly $15 million, and city bonds are expected to cover much of it.Back on the streetsSome residents say poor attention to detail, more than a lack of funds, is what leaves walkways impassable.In 2005, Arlington was sued by Richard Frame, a quadriplegic who has used a wheelchair since a 1999 car wreck. Frame and other plaintiffs who have joined the lawsuit say the city's new sidewalks aren't fully accessible, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.Frame's attorney said fixing the problems would benefit not just people with disabilities but also elderly people who need reliable paths as much as moms and dads with strollers.City officials dealing with tight budgets said they are concerned about the costs of making repairs and other changes to thousands of miles of sidewalks and other public structures. Arlington said a mile of sidewalk without features such as driveways costs $93,000.The U.S. Supreme Court declined this year to hear Arlington's appeal of the lawsuit. The case can now head back to federal District Court for trial, although the city could settle.Some of the problem areas in Arlington continue to involve sidewalks built in the past couple of years, said Faith Chatham, a north Arlington resident and former City Council candidate who uses a battery-powered chair.Chatham says she has experience with accessibility issues, including a recent stint helping make Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth facilities accessible to users with all forms of disabilities. She says many of the problems in Arlington could be fixed if designers tried to navigate the sites in a wheelchair.For example, she said, curb cuts at Randol Mill and North Collins are too narrow and don't feature the dimpled pavement required so that vision-impaired pedestrians can tell where the ramps begin and end.Those who use wheelchairs or power chairs, she said, often roll into the path of traffic while waiting to use the crosswalk."You've got maybe 7 inches of room at the most," she said. "Needless to say, there's not much I need at Walgreens to fight two to six lanes of traffic."On South Cooper, jaywalkers are a common sight near Arlington High School.Three of the seven fatalities during the past 11 years on this roadway have occurred in the area bordered by Park Row Drive and West Pioneer Parkway.Part of the problem is a lack of crosswalks between those two major intersections, said several students crossing on a recent afternoon after summer school classes."For most people, it's a matter of convenience," said Zach McGee, 19, who crossed at the Park Row crosswalk. "It's easier to jaywalk and be expedient, even if you have time to kill."Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796Twitter: @gdickson
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington (2000-09)
942 pedestrian fatalities
15 percent of all traffic deaths involving pedestrians
1.6 fatality rate per 100,000 people
Texas deaths per 100,000 people (2000-07)
Texas deaths per 100,000 people (2000-07)
2.97 65 and older
1.9 under 65
393 children under 16
Most dangerous metro areas
1. Orlando, Fla.
2. Tampa, Fla.
3. Jacksonville, Fla.
5. Riverside, Calif.
6. Las Vegas
10. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington
Source: T4America.org, based on latest statistics available in 2011.
Note: Metro areas include surrounding cities, such as Orlando-Kissimmee and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater