SUNDAY EDITION | Fatal pedestrian crashes on rise in Louisville
State data paints a mixed picture of pedestrian and bicycle safety in Louisville, with injury collisions at their lowest level through mid-August than during any year since 2011.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jennifer Tschida was waiting in a parking lot on 3rd Street Road for a late-night taco truck to open when a car suddenly careened toward her.
The Chevrolet Impala plowed into the crowd, striking two vehicles and 11 people, according to a police report. Tschida said her brother-in-law shoved her aside as a bumper hurtled by.
“Had he not thrown me out of the way, it probably would have decapitated me,” she recalled last week, stopping at the scene for the first time since the January 29 wreck. “Because it was going strong and fast and hard and right to my head.”
But two people died in the crash, which marked the start of a deadly year. As fall approaches, Louisville is on pace to record the most fatal pedestrian collisions in at least a decade, a WDRB News analysis of state data shows.
Through mid-August, 18 crashes between vehicles and people on foot have led to 19 deaths – as many or more than occurred each full year from 2010 through 2015. There were 24 such wrecks all of last year.
MAP OF FATAL PEDESTRIAN CRASHES IN LOUISVILLE, 2017
While deaths are increasing, other statistics indicate the overall number of pedestrian-related injury crashes is declining and through August 15 was the lowest at that point in time (202) than during any year since 2011 (196).
In addition, injury collisions between vehicles and bicycles also have dropped. There were 53 such incidents as of mid-August; that is up from the same time last year (44), but down from 2015 (65), 2014 (79) and 2013 (97).
Taken together, the data paints a mixed picture of pedestrian and bicycle safety in Louisville. While city officials are troubled by the rise in fatal crashes, they point to other bright spots that have occurred under a three-year federal grant meant to combat the city's higher-than-average rate of pedestrian deaths.
For example, there has been an increase in “safe,” or law-abiding, crossings at intersections that police and local officials have targeted as part of the grant, said John “Rolf” Eisinger, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in Louisville Metro’s public works department.
Among those intersections are Second Street and Broadway; Fourth Street and Broadway; and Gilmore Lane and Preston Highway.
And Eisinger said overall pedestrian crashes at dusk and at night have decreased – a drop he attributes to outreach and education programs funded by the $307,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that wraps up next year.
The grant also has spurred new research on pedestrian crashes. In an effort to better understand why they are happening, city experts reviewed collisions involving pedestrians from 2012 to mid-2016 and found:
-In the vast majority of cases, inattention was the main factor for drivers who struck pedestrians, followed by failure to yield the right of way.
-As many crashes occurred when a pedestrian was crossing a street with a traffic signal, at a crosswalk or intersection as there were collisions in which a person was walking in the road.
Eisinger said it may take a while to see the full effects of the work undertaken as part of the Louisville grant. Meanwhile, he noted that across the U.S., pedestrian fatalities are rising – 11 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a study released this year.
“Hopefully as we continue we’ll start to see a downturn in our overall crash rates, but nationally it’s going up,” he said.
MAP OF PEDESTRIAN INJURY CRASHES IN LOUISVILLE, 2016-17
The Louisville crash data show that collisions between cars and pedestrians continue to be concentrated downtown and in surrounding areas with heavy foot traffic, as well as along arterial streets with higher speed limits, wide lanes and often long distances between intersections.
Two of the fatal collisions this year were on Dixie Highway, which connects downtown and southwestern Jefferson County. A 49-year-old man died after stepping off the median and into Dixie at Ralph Avenue on April 12; three days later, a 75-year-old man was pushing a cart and crossing against the light when he was struck and killed at Farnsley Road less than a half-mile away.
In fact, since the start of 2016, roughly 1 of every 5 deadly pedestrian crashes was on Dixie.
The road also has had the most injury crashes – 37 -- involving people on foot since the start of 2016. That was one more than on the east-west Broadway corridor.
Roughly half of the wrecks on Dixie with pedestrian injuries were between Crums Lane and Stonestreet Road, an area included in a roughly $30 million project meant to make the entire corridor safer. Plans for that stretch of Dixie call for 15-foot-wide islands, raised concrete medians and wide sidewalks.
State officials are expected to select a contractor for the project in the coming weeks, with construction tentatively scheduled to start in the fall.
Elsewhere, the Metro Council approved spending $2 million on sidewalk repairs in the current year’s budget. The council’s investment represents “significant money,” said Bill Hollander, chairman of the majority Democratic caucus.
“We are trying, but I think we have a lot more to do,” Hollander said.
City officials also are working to convert a number of one-way streets downtown for two-way traffic, a move being done in part to make those streets safer. More than $5 million has been allocated for the projects, which include Third Street near the Omni hotel and parts of 7th, 8th and Jefferson streets.
Mayor Greg Fischer proposed $500,000 in his recommended 2018 budget to expand the city’s network of bike lanes. The Metro Council ultimately approved half that amount -- $250,000.
In recent years spending on bike lanes has become a divisive issue for the council, even though the funding represents a “tiny fraction” of the city’s public works department budget, said Chris Glasser, director of the Bicycling for Louisville advocacy group. By comparison, the council approved $20 million to repave streets across the city.
While acknowledging the investment Louisville has made in on-street bike lanes, Glasser said the city needs a protected, separated route through the heart of downtown. Other cities have installed such paths that keep cyclists and vehicles fully apart from one another.
“Indianapolis has an entire network of this in their downtown, so it’s not something that only happens in the Portland, Oregons and the New York Citys of the world,” he said. “It can happen in the Midwest or the South.”