SUNDAY EDITION | Analysis: Louisville on pace for most pedestria - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Analysis: Louisville on pace for most pedestrian deaths in four years

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – One woman was standing at her roadside mailbox on a clear afternoon when she was struck, tossed across the car’s hood and thrown into the street.

One man trying to cross a five-lane stretch of Preston Highway was hit with such force that his coffee cup, glasses and baseball cap scattered far from where his body came to rest.

A 7-year old girl had just gotten off a TARC bus when she walked behind the bus and into the path of an oncoming car.

In all, 73 people on foot were killed in automobile collisions in Metro Louisville during the last four years. On average, nearly 16 pedestrians have died annually since 2010, according to a WDRB analysis of police reports.

And a review of crash data through July 3 shows Louisville is on pace for nearly 20 pedestrian deaths this year -- the most in four years.

WDRB examined the location and time of each collision since 2010 and used investigating police officers’ narratives, which in most cases include witness statements, to get a better picture of circumstances surrounding each accident.

Among the findings:

-Nearly half of those who were killed (34) were not at intersections or crosswalks.

-Most deaths occurred outside Louisville’s urban core, where the street network typically includes short blocks and frequent stop signs and traffic lights. More than 70 percent of all pedestrian fatalities on surface streets (46 of 65 total deaths) happened beyond the bounds of the Watterson Expressway.  Eight people were killed on interstates and highways.

-A disproportionate share of fatal crashes took place on Dixie Highway and Preston Highway. Together, the two corridors accounted for nearly 30 percent of all pedestrian deaths on surface streets (13 on Dixie, 6 on Preston). In fact, one in every five pedestrian deaths on surface streets occurred on Dixie Highway. The stretch between the Watterson and Gene Snyder Freeway was deadliest, with six fatal collisions.

-It was considered “dark” outside during 51 of the 72 fatal collisions. Three occurred at “dusk” and one at “dawn.”

SEE WDRB’s INTERACTIVE MAP OF FATAL PEDESTRIAN COLLISIONS

“This is an issue that is a basic human issue, really,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of America Walks, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that promotes safe walking.

He blamed roads built with automobiles in mind that leave, in many cases, “no places to cross.”

“We need to design these streets in the first place with sidewalks, with places to cross the street,” he said.

Louisville officials say several efforts are underway to make problematic streets safer for pedestrians.  

Last month, Metro government received a $307,000 federal safety grant to educate drivers and pedestrians. The city qualified for the award because of a pedestrian death rate that exceeds the national average.

Meanwhile, design is underway on the first phase of a long-term project making changes to Dixie Highway in southwestern Jefferson County, where 13 people have been killed on foot in the last four years. Construction is scheduled to start next spring.

“Pedestrian safety is not adequate in Louisville right now,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in an interview. “It’s a really baffling situation.”

Fischer said the grant, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will allow the city to launch an education campaign that reinforces “basic messages” for drivers and pedestrians.

“Don’t walk across the middle of the road, in dark clothes, at nighttime,” Fischer said. “And you see people doing that, you know. So use the crosswalks, use lights, wear the appropriate color clothing when you’re out walking around.”

“Dixie Dieway”

Dixie Highway, which widens to six traffic lanes and a center turn lane at points, is the main thoroughfare through an area with no grid system for dispersing traffic. The highway is dotted with stores, fast-food restaurants and car dealerships, but marked crosswalks can be thousands of feet apart.

Thirteen people died while walking (or, in one case, using a wheelchair) on, or attempting to cross, the road known colloquially as the “Dixie Dieway.”

“Walking right there on the road is … I don’t like it,” said Lacey Osborne, who was walking a stretch of Dixie in Valley Station on a recent afternoon. “I usually walk in the grass no matter what, even if there are sidewalks.”

Making Dixie safer is a goal of an 11-mile project from Rockford Lane to the Gene Snyder. Among the improvements envisioned are new medians, set-back and filled-in sidewalks and brighter lighting. For instance, some continuous turning lanes would become built-up pedestrian islands, with crosswalks.

The Kentucky General Assembly approved $5 million for the first phase, a 1.5-mile section between Crums and Rockford lanes, which includes Dixie’s interchange with the Watterson Expressway. Construction is set to start next spring after design work is complete, said Joel Morrill, project manager for the Corradino Group.

A $7.2 million second phase, from Rockford to Greenwood Road, was funded in the state highway plan approved earlier this year. It is scheduled for construction in 2016.

“We’ve had a lot of fatalities on Dixie, and so the plan tries to address both pedestrian (deaths) as well as the car accidents,” said Rick Blackwell, a Metro Council member whose district includes part of Dixie.

One proposed element of the plan – Blackwell and others are calling it the “Dixie Do-Over” – is adding a series of pedestrian-only medians that would work alongside new crosswalks and break up long stretches of turning lanes.

WDRB’s analysis shows the vast majority of pedestrian deaths on Dixie occurred away from intended crossings.

One key problem is that crosswalks are often very far apart, forcing walkers to wade into traffic on Dixie or go as much as a mile out of their way to reach a controlled crossing. For instance, a roughly 1-mile section between West Pages Lane and Greenwood Road that lacks crosswalks and stoplights was the site of three of the pedestrian deaths, according to accident reports.

WDRB limited its analysis to pedestrian fatalities, not the total number of people struck by vehicles, because the recent federal grant was awarded based on Louisville’s fatality rate.

In all, nine people died while standing in the road or attempting to cross Dixie between intersections with lights, according to the collision reports.

“We have places that are kind of natural crosswalks, where people are going to cross regardless of whether we name them crosswalks or not,” Blackwell said. “You know, we have busy areas. If you just expect people to go from light to light, that’s not going to happen.”

Another idea is adding new sidewalks or filling in existing ones.

In August 2011, while waiting at a bus stop just feet off Dixie near Blanton Lane, a 47-year-old man was struck by a sport-utility vehicle that veered off the road. He later died. The SUV’s driver told police he fell asleep.

To Blackwell, that collision illustrates the importance of having sidewalks set farther back from the road. He said he expects the final design for the first phase will include continuous sidewalks, and paths farther away from the street.

“It’ll be a little safer area,” he said.

Council member David Yates, whose district also includes a stretch of Dixie, said his area includes many people who walk along the road simply because they have no other option.

“Sometimes the people who are struggling may not have the ability or the transportation to get around,” Yates said. “Whether you’re on foot or on bike on Dixie Highway, it’s not safe.”

Chris Millens was walking on a shoulder alongside Dixie Highway in Valley Station last week, occasionally having to step into a right-turn lane as he returned home from his father’s house.

Millens said he walks Dixie nearly every day, including at night. If possible, he said, he uses crosswalks.

Asked if he’s ever seen a pedestrian struck by a vehicle, he said, “No” -- then paused.

He said he was friends with Gavin Anglin, who was “darting” across Terry Road at West Pages Lane on June 20 when he was struck by a driver, according to a police report. He died the next day.

“We just got done doing the burial like two weeks ago,” Millens said. “He was only 16, too.”

“Be on the lookout for pedestrians”

Unlike the state-funded Dixie construction project, the federal safety grant is geared toward education and targeting drivers who don’t follow laws meant to protect pedestrians.

The U.S. Department of Transportation chose New York, Philadelphia and Louisville to share $1.6 million as part of the “Everyone is a Pedestrian” campaign.

In Louisville, the money will be spent developing education programs for Jefferson County Public Schools, working to make walking safer for seniors and providing reflective apparel and lights to pedestrians, said John “Rolf” Eisinger, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in Louisville Metro’s public works department. 

In addition, Eisinger said, officials plan police training and crackdowns on drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians at high-crash intersections. Those intersections are Fourth and Market streets; Broadway and Fourth St.; Broadway and Second St.; Bardstown Road and Goldsmith Lane; and Preston Highway and Gilmore Lane. No intersections on Dixie Highway were included.

“Usually the most effective way is to warn people first. Education, followed by enforcement,” he said.

Eisinger said similar campaigns have worked elsewhere. He cited a project in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which had the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the state when it began in 2002, according to a federal report.

Florida officials launched education campaigns, raised medians, completed sidewalks and took other measures to make certain streets safer. Federal experts concluded the safety program was the “possible cause” of 360 fewer crashes during a two-year period that followed.

While not part of the upcoming safety efforts, the addition of dedicated bicycle lanes also plays a role in making streets safer for pedestrians, Eisinger said.

“If you have a four-lane roadway, and now you bring it down to one lane in each direction, with a center turn lane, well guess what?” he said. “Now the pedestrian doesn’t have four lanes to watch out for.”

A Metro Council-commissioned study of the city’s bike lanes is expected to be complete next month. But council member Tom Owen, an avid cyclist, calls the lanes a “softening of the entire infrastructure.”

For example, Owen said, Kentucky and Breckinridge streets east of downtown had “raceway” lanes prior to the installation of bike lanes earlier this year.

“The road diet has humanized that streetscape,” he said. “It introduces bicycles and makes it safer for pedestrians crossing.”

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