Income disparities prevalent with Lowcountry pedestrian-related crash sites
CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Christine Wainwright has been running for the last 50 years.
“I’m not a fast runner. I never train properly. I just run. I just enjoy doing it,” she said.
Wainwright clocks 50 to 60 miles a week exploring different parts of Charleston County.
“You definitely become addicted. You know, the endorphins all that kind of stuff,” she said. “It just feels really good afterward and you know that you—you’re doing something good for your body.”
It’s an activity that Wainwright loves, but could’ve ended her life back in 2016, at the intersection of Columbus and Meetings Street in Downtown Charleston.
“The light was getting ready to change and I looked both ways, but evidently I didn’t see a car coming from my left that hit me,” she said. “I do believe they ran the red light.”
Wainwright said she spent the next two weeks in hospitals recovering from pelvic fractures, sacrum fractures, a head injury, bruises and cuts to her knees and elbows.
“Shook me up. Yeah. It was a life-changing experience for sure,” Wainwright said.
According to the Governors Highway Association, pedestrians are being hit and killed by drivers more than they ever have been since 1981. Nationwide last year, the agency projects there were 7508 pedestrian deaths. In South Carolina, those numbers don’t fare well either. The state ranked 13th in the country for pedestrian deaths last year. It’s a growing issue that families across the Lowcountry are all too familiar with.
Lynnette Ranz regularly comes to the busy intersection of Septima and Coming Street in Downtown Charleston to maintain a makeshift memorial for her daughter, Lindsey.
“She had a heart of gold,” Ranz said. “She would do anything for almost anyone.”
January 13, 2014, a then-21-year-old Lindsey was hit and killed while jogging across the area better known as the Crosstown. The memorial of flowers and plaques at the intersection now serves as a stark reminder.
“I’m hoping that at some point it draws attention to the drivers and to the pedestrians that this is not safe,” Ranz said. “You have to be very vigilant on both accounts.”
Ranz now advocates for infrastructure upgrades at the location, like lowering the speed limit, adding flashing signs and following through with traffic safety studies. She does it through her non-profit, the Lindsey Taylor Ranz Foundation.
“I’ll grieve the rest of my life. But if I can save a person from being hit along this area, I will,” Ranz said. “If the changes aren’t made, the deaths are going to continue.”
The lack of infrastructure is a problem that Katie Zimmerman, the Executive Director of the nonprofit Charleston Moves, claims is a result of a deeper systemic issue.
“It’s sort of a waterfall effect of you look at places— locations where you see more users who are going to be lower income or minority communities or older communities that are lacking the infrastructure needed to get around; whether they can’t drive, can’t own a car, can’t afford on a car or if they’re choosing to get around by different modes and so then we’re seeing more people put in these dangerous situations,” Zimmerman said.
As indicated on the South Carolina Department of Public Safety’s Traffic Fatality Map, the purple dots show where pedestrians have been killed in the Lowcountry over the last five years from July 19, 2018, to July 19, 2023. Areas in Charleston County like Rivers Avenue, Dorchester Road and Ashley Phosphate Road show some of the highest concentrations of crash sites during that time. When you take those crash sites and overlay income information from JusticeMap.org, which uses U.S. Census data, you see a trend. The majority of those crashes have happened in communities where residents statistically don’t make more than $40,000 a year.
“There is just not enough safe connected, accessible space for vulnerable road users,” Zimmerman said. “So, we need better sidewalks. We need more sidewalks. We need robust intersections, crossings and signals and paint. We need protected bicycle infrastructure. We need bus stops that are located in safe places with a proper bus stop in place that these stops are also accessible.”
South Carolina District 15 Rep. JA Moore said collaboration in Charleston is happening at the city, county and state level to fix infrastructure concerns, particularly in vulnerable communities.
“This isn’t where you can pass the blame to other people,” Moore said. “I think it’s all of our responsibility as elected leaders and government officials to work collaboratively to make this area and South Carolina as a whole more safe.”
He cites the Lowcountry Rapid Transit (LCRT) spearheaded by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, as a way to mitigate accessibility concerns in lower-income communities. LCRT is a 21.3-mile bus route that is expected to launch in 2029. The development will serve people traveling by bus, foot and bike throughout Charleston, North Charleston and Ladson. The $635 million dollar development project is a county and federal collaboration: $375 million or 60% of the project’s funding is coming from the federal level and the remaining 40% or $250 million is coming from Charleston County. The 12-year-long process is currently in the engineering phase, with an estimated construction timeline between 2026 and 2028.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation is also underway with its Project: 700. The goal is to upgrade and/or install 700 crosswalks by the end of 2025 at intersections across Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, and Jasper counties. That includes new signalized crosswalks with pushbuttons, upgrading pedestrian ramps, and signals.
Moore said Charleston County is on the right path to addressing concerns.
“I mean is any governmental entity perfect? No. Does any one elected official have all the answers? No. But I think collectively we all recognize that good public safety, good pedestrian access is good for the community,” Moore said.
“Making these improvements, making our community safer for people walking and biking and using mass transit only makes it safer for you as a motorist,” she said.
The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments is hosting multiple public workshops to hear the public’s thoughts on the walkability of communities around public transit stations:
Monday, July 31, 2023: 6-8 p.m. North Charleston Intermodal/Amtrak Station, 4565 Gaynor Ave, North Charleston, SC 29405
Tuesday, August 1, 2023: 6-8 p.m. The Opportunity Center, 8570 Rivers Ave, North Charleston, SC 29406
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