6 auto-pedestrian deaths in 2023 concern officials and advocates
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston leaders launch a “Heads Up” safety campaign and biker and walker advocates continue their calls for safe street redesigns in the wake of high pedestrian deaths year after year in Charleston.
Charleston Police says that 259 accidents between cars and people happened in the past three years and 70% of them sent pedestrians to the hospital. As of mid-June of 2023, the police department has seen six auto-ped deaths.
While that is the same number the department had seen by the same time the year before, officials worry that the numbers aren’t going down.
“One is too many,” District 8 Council Member Mike Seekings says.
District 8 represents most of downtown and Seekings says that is the place most traveled on foot by locals and tourists.
The MUSC adult trauma center says during the past five years, they have cared for more than 630 bikers and pedestrians. Dr. Ashley Hink, a Trauma Burn and Critical Care Surgeon, says 7% of those patients died as a result from their injuries.
“I’m very happy to be a member that is here to care for people in our community that experience all types of injuries, but I will certainly represent MUSC in saying that we would love to see less of them,” Hink says.
Lt. Sean Engles works in the Traffic Unit at the police department says a lot of different factors can combine into a recipe for an accident, including darkness, speed or crossing illegally.
“I would say number one is inattention. And that would be on both parts whether it’s the bicyclist or pedestrian or the driver,” Engles says.
Of the six deaths in Charleston in 2023 as of July, Engles says most have been outside of designated crosswalks.
“Those that have been in a crosswalk and so an appropriate location but inappropriate timing,” Engles says.
While CPD says more than 70% of the time, the pedestrian is found at fault, advocates with Charleston Moves argue that many streets are designed in a way that put the walker at an immediate disadvantage.
Executive Director Katie Zimmerman says the rule is always to yield to a pedestrian and biker, but when a road is not made to accommodate everyone, that’s pretty hard.
“If you’ve designed a space that works for the most vulnerable person, it’s going to be the safest situation for all users, including motorists. And what that looks like is it’s very contextual. So it’s not like you want to scrape a bike lane on every street. But depending on the street type, you want to make sure you have sidewalks. You want to try to get buffers with those sidewalks, maybe a separated path for both people walking and bicycling,” Zimmerman says.
For Charleston Moves, certain areas of concern downtown are King and Meeting Streets and the crosstown at Septima Clark. SCDOT did an audit of roads downtown in 2022 and made improvement suggestions including bike lanes on St. Phillip Street, a bike lane on Lower King Street, repainted crosswalks and pedestrian scrambles at major intersections.
“So that’s where at certain intersections you’ve got an all read phase so all the motorists wait. All the pedestrians can cross whichever way then the signal takes backup for motorists, you know, and it’s that cycle. Those work wonderfully at intersections like Calhoun and King,” Zimmerman says.
Zimmerman encourages everyone on the roads to have empathy for the people traveling in a different way then them. She suggest putting yourself in the shoes of another traveler as you pass them to interact in the safest way possible. Still, the organization’s goal is improve what they see as the base issue with street design.
“You want narrow lanes of traffic, the wider a lane of traffic is the faster motorist is going to go and that’s just natural for them. It’s not saying that it’s purposeful by the motorist, the way a street is designed can sort of accidentally encourage motorists to be careless. And so it’s really, really important because there’s never going to be enough law enforcement out there to get to everybody to correct their behavior,” Zimmerman says.
Engles admits that the engineering and design of certain problem areas like the crosstown, are much needed.
“Designated bike lanes designated pedestrian paths... those are all beneficial in removing the shared space and having individual space. So yes, there’s the infrastructure and the engineering does have a lot to do with it and we work closely with our traffic and transportation department here at the city to achieve as positive outcome as we can,” Engles says.
Councilman Seekings, who represents most of downtown, says the traffic and transportation meeting will be presenting a traffic safety improvement plan based on the SCDOT audit and suggestions at its meeting on July 18 ahead of city council’s regular meeting. That agenda has yet to be released.
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