The number of pedestrians and cyclists hit by drivers is at its highest level in decades, and deaths from those collisions are rising even faster.

Those statistics will both continue to head in the wrong direction as long as road designs fail to consider anything beyond car and truck traffic.

We don’t yet know exactly what happened last week on Cony Road in Augusta, when the driver of a car hit and killed three residents who were out for a walk, including a 1-year-old girl, Vada-Leigh Peaslee.

The child’s maternal grandmother, Barbara Maxim-Hendsbee, 69, a longtime advertising representative for the Morning Sentinel, was also killed, as was Rosalyn Jean, 62.

We do know, however, that the victims were walking along a route that is well used by people in the area, and that there is no sidewalk to separate walkers and joggers from traffic.

Too often, that’s the case. Roads are built with only vehicle use in mind, though they are invariably used by walkers, joggers, cyclists and wheelchairs, too.

These designs make it easy to drive. But they also place everyone else at risk, forcing them out in traffic or off onto a soft shoulder, putting them at the mercy of drivers who may or may not be paying close attention, or following the speed limit. That’s why the number of pedestrians and cyclists hit by drivers has increased so much in the last decade.

And collisions between vehicles and pedestrians and/or cyclists are more likely to be fatal for the people outside the vehicle than they used to be, the result of the popularity of SUVs and trucks. The vehicles’ size cuts down on the driver’s field of vision, making it harder to see someone walking on the road, and their high bumpers and huge grills make them much more deadly.

People who own these vehicles have a responsibility to look out for others on the road.

More than that, roads need to be designed so that they truly match all their different uses, with good sidewalks, street crossings, speed enforcement and other traffic-calming measures in place.

Nearly two dozen communities, including Augusta as well as Biddeford, Portland, Saco, South Portland and Westbrook, are involved in a state program aimed at using these and other measures to make their communities more pedestrian friendly. Augusta councilors say they will discuss adding a sidewalk on Cony Road.

But the rising number of deaths shows that they shouldn’t waste time.

We need roads that make pedestrians and cyclists feel safe and welcome, and which show drivers that they aren’t the only ones with a right to be out there.


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