Monday, August 24, 2009
Deadly drivers threaten walkers in Nashville
Nashville among least safe cities for pedestrians By Jennifer Brooks • THE TENNESSEAN • August 24, 2009 Pedestrian accidents are on the rise in Metro Nashville, where hundreds are hit, hurt or killed by vehicles each year. The number of pedestrian accidents has gone up nearly every year since 2004 — a grim statistic in a city already known as one of the least-pedestrian-friendly places in the country. Seventy-three people died trying to cross or walk along Nashville streets from January 2004 to August 2009, according to Metro police records. More than 1,600 pedestrians have been hit. Not only are Nashville pedestrians getting hit, they're getting hit in the same intersections, neighborhoods and along the same main traffic corridors over and over again. They're also getting hit for the same reasons, over and over again. Some get hit while jaywalking. Others are hit because reckless drivers don't know, or don't care, that the law requires them to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Some get hit because they go walking in dark clothes on a dark night. "The bottom line is, if more pedestrians and drivers would follow the rules, many of these (accidents) could have been avoided," said Metro Public Works spokeswoman Gwen Hopkins-Glascock, whose department is responsible for pedestrian crossings around the city. But there are things other cities have done to cut down on their pedestrian accident and death rates — things like stepped-up enforcement at pedestrian crossings, more visible crosswalks, bans on right turns at red lights, and remaking entire streets to calm traffic and protect pedestrians. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has appointed a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in an effort to create a more "walkable" city, and Metro's Planning and Public Works departments have scrutinized dangerous crossings. But the city has yet to come up with a comprehensive safety plan that targets dangerous crossings. "We're looking into how to address this, but for now it's a little premature to say," said Metro Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Toks Omishakin. "More detailed analysis needs to be done." But even a cursory look at pedestrian accident data highlights the streets around town that are accidents waiting to happen. 7 hit on BroadwayThere's Broadway, where pedestrians have been hit in almost every intersection in the dozen blocks between the river and the highway overpass over the past five years — 14 pedestrians hit at Broadway and Third Avenue, 11 more at the Fifth Avenue crossing. This year alone, there have been seven pedestrians hit between First and 12th avenues. Then there's the Main Street/Gallatin Road/Gallatin Pike corridor, site of three of the seven pedestrian deaths the city has seen this year. The first traffic death of the year was a pedestrian, 44-year-old Allen Young, killed while trying to cross Main Street by a driver who never saw him until it was too late to stop. The driver wasn't cited and the final police report on the incident concluded: "It appears Young's failure to yield to traffic while crossing the roadway was the contributing factor to this fatal accident." But several months later, several miles up the road, Nashville grandfather James Hamsley was waiting quietly at a bus stop along Gallatin Pike when he was sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver and killed. What Nashville needs, Omishakin said, is a change in the culture and mindset of drivers and pedestrians alike. "There is a lot of education that needs to happen," said Omishakin, whose office is also leading a push for more bike paths and pedestrian corridors in a city that the National Surface Transportation Policy Project once ranked as the 10th-most-dangerous place for pedestrians in the nation. A look around any busy intersection in town offers a vivid glimpse of just how far Nashville has to go in its pedestrian safety education. It was the noon lunch rush at the intersection of Fifth and Charlotte avenues, and Billy Harris had his eye on the Dunkin' Donuts across the street, not the glowing red "don't walk" signal overhead. Harris bounded into the street, ignoring the red minivan bearing down on him. Brakes squealed as the vehicle slowed, then swerved around him and continued through the intersection. Safely on the other side, Harris, a day laborer, seemed amused by the suggestion that it might have been safer to wait for a walk signal. Or at least look both ways before he crossed. "I knew I could make it," he said with a laugh. Not long afterward, Barbara Williams, 77, waited at the same corner for the walk signal and started across, hobbled slightly by recent foot surgery that had her stepping slowly and gingerly down Charlotte. Halfway across, she cringed as a dark sedan whipped a right turn on red, just missing her. "People drive like idiots in this town," said Williams, whose failing eyesight forces her to walk everywhere or take the bus around town. "There are drivers who will speed up when they see you in a crosswalk, like they think it's funny to scare the daylights out of you." In 2004, there were 278 pedestrian accidents in the Metro area. By 2008, the number had risen to 302. The death rate has ranged from 11 in 2004 to 17 in 2006 and 13 deaths last year. By contrast, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has charted a steady decline in pedestrian deaths nationwide over the years. Circumstances varyThere's no one reason people keep getting hit on Nashville streets. A look at the 1,600 pedestrian accidents turns up odd tidbits: More accidents happened during daylight hours than nighttime; more pedestrians were hit in intersections than in the middle of roads; and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays were the most dangerous days of the week. The pedestrians are all ages, races and genders: 4-year-old Ronald Easeley III, hit and critically injured while trying to cross Nolensville Pike at Old Hickory with his parents last month; James Veach, 39, sideswiped and killed while steering his electric wheelchair along Dupont Avenue by a driver who police said was under the influence of drugs; even an old friend of Elvis, Marvin "GeeGee" Gambill Jr., 61, hit by a car on Antioch Pike while walking to work. Gambill was Elvis Presley's longtime driver. "It's a bad situation for everyone. For the driver, not being able to do anything, not having time to react before they hit someone, it's really hard on them," said Officer Greg Davis, crash investigator for the Metro Police. "And in general, for the pedestrians getting hit, even if they don't die, they're going to have injuries that are potentially life-changing." For Davis, the worst part of any pedestrian accident scene is knowing that it could have been prevented. "We have good crossing areas in this city, but from what we see, people just aren't using them. … It goes the other way, too. Motorists have to exercise due caution, pay attention," Davis said. Seven pedestrians have died on the streets of Nashville this year. If recent patterns hold true, another seven or so are likely to die before 2010. Davis, for one, would be happy if that doesn't happen, and had a few words of advice for pedestrians: "If there's crosswalks available, use 'em. Treat 'walk' and 'don't walk' signs seriously. The city doesn't put them up for entertainment. They're there to keep people safe," he said.
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