Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What cities can do about pedestrian accidents

If you've spent much time walking in uptown Charlotte, you're likely troubled but not surprised by the pair of pedestrian accidents this week at the intersection of College and Stonewall.

Most of us have seen our share of close calls, heard the honking of drivers' horns, chuckled at the subsequent gestures flung back by pedestrians. But what's happened at College and Stonewall is a sobering reminder of what busy urban traffic can bring.

On Tuesday, Wells Fargo executive Brett Morgan was walking legally in the crosswalk across South College Street when he was struck and killed by a dump truck turning right in the rain and fog. This morning brought the same kind of accident, again in rain and fog, though thankfully without serious injuries.

Almost 5,000 pedestrians a year are killed in accidents across the United States, and tens of thousands more are injured. Some of the incidents come from cars not stopping - or even slowing - to see a pedestrian with the right of way in the crosswalk. Sometimes, pedestrians are to blame for scooting through crosswalks even when the traffic signal blinks no.

Charlotte Department of Transportation spokeswoman Linda Durrett tells the Observer today that city engineers are meeting to discuss the Stonewall/College intersection, which the city has studied after looking at crash data over a number of years. She said she'll have an update later today.

What can cities do? If the crosswalk has the appropriate signals, as Stonewall/College does, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommends looking at intersections for potential design improvements. The crosswalk in question is more angular than most - does that create potential vision issues for approaching cars? If so, the stop line could be moved further back from the intersection to give drivers a better look.

U.S. DOT also recommends signs at or before crosswalks to remind drivers that pedestrians have the right of way. For particularly dangerous intersections, cities can consider in-pavement lights to alert motorists that a pedestrian is crossing. That's an expense, but given the heavy pedestrian traffic coming from the Stonewall rail station, it could be a worthy investment for the city.

Other cities with similar problems have embarked on public information campaigns about crosswalk dangers. A recent example is Chicago, which kicked off a "One of 32" campaign in December by placing black mannequins at 32 spots across the city to remember 32 pedestrians killed in the previous year. The city also is installing bright red street crossing flags at intersections that pedestrians can grab and display when crossing a street, then place in a bin on the other side.

All of which may not matter, of course, if a rushed or careless driver turns into a crosswalk without looking. We've asked Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police if they'll be putting an increased emphasis on the College and Stonewall intersection - or any other uptown intersections. We hope so. We'll let you know what they say.

Until then, the best advice is the most obvious: Whether you're behind the wheel or walking the pavement, be attentive out there.

Peter St. Onge


Jon Harding said...

The lack of enforecement by CMPD of crosswalk laws in Charlotte is a major issue leading to a culture where motorists rule the road because cars can kill. Many motorists do not realize that even if they have a green signal while turning, they must stop for a pedestrian in the cross walk.

Nick said...

As a cyclist in the QC, I can tell you that the problem lays with both the drivers lack of knowledge, and CMPD's lackadaisical approach to enforcement of any of the laws regarding cyclist, pedestrians, or really anything other than speeding.

I've watched drivers make u-turns on red-lights right in front of cops. I can't count how many drive around in the rain and fog without any lights on. Didn't we outlaw texting while driving in NC as well...?

Anonymous said...

We have what I call a "car worship" culture in Charlotte. The city was built exclusively for cars, and now in the last 20 years the transportation departments have been trying to retrofit it, and in my opinion, it isn't going well. We do have a robust bus system and great effort has gone into adding and improving sidewalks and crosswalks. But we still have the culture problem.

What I mean is that it appears, from a pedestrian's point of view, that people seem to undergo a mental transformation when they get behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. This transformation causes them to believe that by driving that vehicle, they become a higher life form than any life form that is not behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. These things we call pedestrians are nothing more than objects that slow cars down, and if we run over them, that's the pedestrian's problem.

I see this on 2 sides of 526 S Church, formerly known as the Duke Energy HQ building. Out back on the Mint St. side, before the police stationed an officer to assist pedestrians, you really took your life into your hands trying to cross Mint St to the Duke parking deck. On several occasions, I or someone I saw would enter the crosswalk, and an oncoming vehicle would speed up, as if it was intentionally trying to run over the pedestrian.

Out front on the Church St side, many of us cross Levine Ave to get to the bus stop in front of the Ally building. There is always someone coming up Levine from Mint, looking to turn right onto Church St. Since vehicle traffic on the one-way Church only comes from the driver's left, that's the only direction the driver looks. I've been crossing this road nearly every day for 12 years and I have never seen a driver look to his right to see if there are any pedestrians crossing.

I get off the bus on Independence at Village Lake Dr. The 2 entrances to the CVS parking lot are even more dangerous than jaywalking across Independence. Another mental transformation takes place there - one that compels people to start their cars, begin yakking on their cell phones and barrel out of the parking lot, never checking for pedestrians and barely checking for oncoming vehicle traffic.

Yes, pedestrians have to do what's right also - jaywalking or crossing against lights (which I sometimes do myself) puts a pedestrian in harm's way unnecessarily. But I think the larger problem is this culture that we have here that pretty much says it's OK to run walkers down.

WashuOtaku said...

City officials already tried the light-up crosswalk and removed it a short time later, it was located along 5th street (I think) and Harris-Teeter in Uptown. Obviously, the project didn't work or they wouldn't have removed the system.

As for moving the stop line further back, I find that most drivers think the crosswalk is the stop line and doubt that will work. However, I could see moving the stop sign working some because that can trigger a more psycological instinct to stop before it and not after.

Maybe additaional lights are needed like side-pole lights and/or more restrictive turn rules may be in order. But honestly I believe its a simple issue of drivers not respecting (or expecting) the pedestrian's right to walk.

John said...

How about pedestrians (as I've often witnessed) who choose to wait for the walk signal while standing off the curb in the actual street? Or those I've also observered who dash into the crosswalk at a run to beat the light?

Pedestrians (and cyclists) too often show a reckless assumption that because they have a right-of-way that that makes them somehow immortal!

Alannc44 said...

If drivers were really doing 25 they'd see pedestrians and be able to stop. How exactly can a police officer stop someone speeding while on a segway or bicycle? One way streets like College and 5th are like freeways at rush hour, and it appears both hits were during rush hour.

Cams Daddy said...

They should ban pedestrians and bike riders from inside the 277ploop.

Cams Daddy said...

They should ban pedestrians and bike riders from inside the 277 loop

YankeeInTheQC said...

I feel terrible about yesterday's accident and was surprised to see another close call of the same nature this morning.

But seriously, I don't care how many signs or painted lines a city puts up at intersections, pedestrians need to watch out for oncoming vehicles when they're getting ready to cross the street.

A vehicle could be turning right onto a street and the driver could have their vision momentarily blocked by an obstruction, utility pole or even the sun and a tragic, although innocent, accident could still occur.

People, look right, look left, and then look right again before stepping off the curb!

copdsux said...

The CMPD does a p#*s poor job of enforcing traffic laws, period. They could receive enough from traffic fines to build a new school within a week, if they enforced the current laws.

Glen W. said...

I've seen quite a few pedestrians hit in Uptown. Not a single one was a drivers fault. Most have been crossing the street not at crosswalk.

However, I watch one women on a cell phone walk out on a crosswalk on a Do-Not-Cross signal at Church and 7th hold up traffic on one side then walk straight into the driver-side of a moving vehicle. How stupid and not paying attention do you have to be to walk into the SIDE of a vehicle.

Dolley said...

Maybe this horrible tragedy will wake people up. Busses turning right at 6th and Tryon pull wide into the intersection when pedestrians have the right of way EVERY SINGLE TIME. it is hard to get out of the way because they swing so wide and if you are in the middle of the street you are out of luck - I've had to turn around and RUN THE OTHER WAY on more than one occasion. I called once to complain and the CATS person basically said as long as they have the green light they can turn right or left, pedestrians be damned. Being right next to Discovery Place I see families with children who are perhaps not used to uptown traffic nearly be killed several times. A co-worker grabbed a lady one day literally saving her life as a bus came barreling into the intersection. They just don't care IMO. We are all sad and up in arms now, but in a few weeks we will all forget. But this family will never forget. And it could have been prevented.

iamCathy said...

I was almost hit in the College/3rd crosswalk in Aug 2000 by a cab driver. All I saw was shiny, chrome bumper, my left knee. Shiny, chrome bumper, my left knee. The driver was looking down 3rd at the stopped traffic. I finally yelled, "Hey! Don't you hit my left knee!" and he jerked the wheel and drove behind me. A woman on the other sidewalk said that if he hit me she would have been my witness. I said, "Thank you."

I jaywalk all the time without incident. I was in the cross walk at Tryon and 7th in Spring 2007 and was almost hit again. This time I just scurried to the double line and the driver turned left behind me.

Nannie Leick said...

Yes, street signals and proper enforcement of road laws can help reduce pedestrian accidents, as it is nearly impossible to eliminate. Keeping order in the streets is still the most effective solution to this matter. Walking without knowing the proper pedestrian rules and crossing lanes can be dangerous, especially doing it in a city where cars are the main means of transportation.

-->Nannie Leick