LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Pedestrian deaths increased in Jefferson County for the second straight year in 2014 and hit their highest level in four years, according to a WDRB News analysis of police reports.

In all, 18 people were killed while on foot on the county's roads and streets – the most since 20 pedestrians died in 2010. Some were struck while using marked crosswalks. Others were walking in the middle of the street or hit by drivers whose vehicles careened off roads.

The reports show pedestrian deaths were concentrated downtown and in southern and central areas. One-third of all deaths, for example, occurred on Dixie Highway or in the nearby Pleasure Ridge Park and Valley Station neighborhoods in southwestern Louisville.

Two of those killed were hit by drivers from a single company – Advance Ready Mix – while they attempted to cross at intersections. Two others died in separate crashes on a stretch of River Road east of Zorn Avenue.

The rise in such deaths comes as Louisville prepares to spend a $307,000 federal safety grant that will pay for educational campaigns and stepped-up police enforcement. The city received the award from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last spring because its pedestrian death rate exceeded the national average.

Authorities hope the grant will bring awareness to the dangers of walking – particularly in areas where the street grid has few pedestrian crossings – and the rights and responsibilities of people both on foot and behind the wheel.

Lt. Joe Seelye, traffic commander for the Louisville Metro Police Department, said his goal for this year is simple: Help families arrange fewer funerals related to crashes of all types.

“There's always an opportunity to be involved in an accident, and I hope people are way more educated, way more thoughtful as drivers and pedestrians and we've hopefully improved some behaviors to ultimately reduce those fatal crashes and serious crashes,” he said.

Deadly year for Dixie Highway

Crash statistics from police reports collected by Kentucky State Police reveal a dangerous year for people walking in Jefferson County.

Besides the fatal crashes, there were more collisions last year involving pedestrians – 483 -- than during any time over the past decade.

Injuries were reported in 387 crashes. Only during 2012 were more people hurt in pedestrian-related collisions.

The deadliest street was Dixie Highway, which cuts through the southwestern part of the county and often has wide lanes and few crosswalks and traffic lights.

Four of the 18 deaths occurred on Dixie, including a 77-year-old woman who was attempting to cross a poorly lit, six-lane section near St. Andrews Church Road when she was struck last July, according to a police report. She was not crossing at an intersection.

Since 2010, nearly 1 in 5 of all fatal pedestrian crashes in Louisville happened on Dixie Highway. There were 30 collisions with injuries last year – the most in any single year dating to at least 2004, data show.

As part of a project dubbed the “Dixie Do-Over,” pedestrian-only medians, new sidewalks and lighted crosswalks are planned for sections of the road between the Watterson Expressway and the Gene Snyder Freeway.

The first phase, funded by the Kentucky General Assembly, addresses a stretch between Crums and Rockford Lanes. Plans detailing the work will be submitted to state transportation officials next month, with construction starting as early as the summer, said Joel Morrill, project manager for the Corradino Group.

“We would hope that we would get approval to move forward possibly by the end of February or early March and then we would need three or four months or so … to get the final design done,” Morrill said.

The project also will address concerns cited by developers interested in the Dixie Highway corridor, said Vince Jarboe, president of the Southwest Dream Team, a nonprofit economic development group focused on southwestern Jefferson County.

At a summit held several years ago, developers said the area needed “infrastructure work” in order to attract new business, Jarboe said.

The current-day Dixie Highway would be transformed into a more pedestrian-friendly road under the ideas being considered for the 11-mile project, which will likely take years to complete and depends on additional funding from the state.

The pedestrian medians would prevent drivers from crossing wide swaths of Dixie – six lanes at a time --and driving in medians for long stretches. Jarboe said another option he's seen involves reducing the width of lanes, from 14 feet to 11 feet.

“That's the calming aspect of slowing down the traffic,” he said. “There is talk of lowering the speed limit on Dixie. It's 40 (miles per hour). They're thinking of maybe lowering that to either 35 or maybe even 30, so it can slow traffic down.”

Grant update

The three-year federal pedestrian grant will allow police to increase patrols on problematic roads, educating drivers and people on foot and writing tickets for those breaking the law.

Seelye, the LMPD traffic commander, said his analysis of crash data shows that pedestrians are “at fault” in 60 percent of fatal crashes because they're jaywalking, darting into roads or not visible.

Seelye said he believes drivers have a “decent” understanding of state laws that govern crosswalks. By law, drivers must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks – although that rarely happens.

“Cars are legally bound to abide and slow down and stop to allow that person to get all the way across the street before they take off,” he said.

Police plan to focus on 10 intersections, including Second and Main streets near the KFC Yum! Center and Clark Memorial Bridge, where officers issued 22 citations to drivers during a blitz earlier this month, Seelye said.

Two high-profile pedestrian collisions occurred in that area in 2014. In September, a pregnant woman and her two children were struck by an alleged drunk driver at Third and Main streets after leaving a “Disney on Ice” show at the arena. In June, 24-year-old Ryann Tewell was killed when she was hit by an Advance Ready Mix cement truck at Second and Main as she walked to her job at Humana.

An Advance Ready Mix truck was involved in one other fatal pedestrian collision last year. In December, 57-year-old Anita Duvall was struck by one of the company's drivers while “crossing with signal” at Broadway and 12th Street, according to a police report. She later died.

Camilla Schroeder, president of Advance Ready Mix, did not return a message left at her office or answer questions sent by email last week, including whether the drivers involved in those collisions are still operating company vehicles.

Civil lawsuits filed in the crashes involving Advance Ready Mix are pending in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Louisville was one of three cities chosen to receive the federal safety grants, joining New York and Philadelphia. The money includes funding for programs at Jefferson County Public Schools, providing reflective clothes to pedestrians and paying for safety pamphlets, among other initiatives.

John “Rolf” Eisinger, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in Louisville Metro's public works department, said a website is being developed and should be online in the next few months.

LMPD's Seelye said he analyzes crash data daily, using trends to decide where to send officers, for instance. The grant will allow police to expand existing programs – such as mock crash demonstrations in schools – and new efforts, such as having “decoy” officers ticket drivers who fail to stop at crosswalks.

“This allows us to do that even more,” he said.

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