Local media outlets, over the last several years, have published and aired scores of stories about the dangers faced by pedestrians on our streets. These accounts usually follow the death or injury of a pedestrian and almost always include quotes from law enforcement officials warning pedestrians to use crosswalks, even when doing so would require a pedestrian to walk miles out of his or her way. Even when there’s no compelling evidence a pedestrian would have been safer in a crosswalk. Local journalists have seemed unable to make the connection between pedestrian casualties and streets that are dangerous by design. Until now.
In yesterday’s Savannah Morning News, Eric Curl included the words “street design” in his story “Parents, officials decry speeders at Montgomery Crossroad school zone.” As far as I can tell, this is the first time a local news story has used these words and made the connection between the design of the street and the danger it presents to pedestrians. To be sure, other local media personnel — City Talk columnist Bill Dawers being chief among them — have argued that a Complete Streets approach will make streets safer. However, Curl’s may be the first story about pedestrian safety to suggest automobile-centric street design makes streets dangerous.
Curl begins to zero in on the problem with this passage:
Those familiar with the problem say enforcement is only one component to solving it. Signage, street design and education also play a role.
Yes! He actually wrote the words “street design.” Now we are getting somewhere. Here’s a passage that describes potential solutions:
Many would like to see signs and lights added over the road so that they would be easier to see. In addition, the brush needs to be trimmed back in some areas where it obscures the signs, Stewart said. Road markers are another option being considered.
OK. Now we are talking about things next to the street, above the street and painted on the street. But what about the street itself? Is there something about it that makes it inherently dangerous for pedestrians? Could it be that it is five (and in some places, six) lanes wide and designed to maximize motor vehicle speed? We almost get there. But not quite. Here are some thoughts from two police officers:
“I am not an expert in traffic engineering so will yield to their expertise,” he said. Police Capt. Scott Simpkins said the problem is not unique to St. James. “It’s a continuing problem with the multilane roadways,” Simpkins said. “We’re doing what we can.”
Astute readers will note that yielding to the expertise of traffic engineers is exactly what produced the current dangerous situation. Afterall, Montgomery Crossroad isn’t a natural occurrence. It isn’t a path worn away over the eons by tidal creeks. It was designed by traffic engineers. Its design encourages speeding. Its design makes the street deadly for pedestrians. Without addressing these core issues, it will continue to be dangerous no matter how much enforcement attention is focused on it.
Still, Simpkins defines the scope of the situation and connect the dots between local streets that claim the lives of people who walk. Abercorn Street Extension. Ogeechee Road. Montgomery Crossroad. Mall Boulevard. Hodgson Memorial. All are multilane. All have pedestrian crossings spaced widely apart. All were designed to maximize car capacity and speed. All are dangerous by design.