Crosswalk signals may be too quick for some pedestrians' safety - WNEM TV 5

Crosswalk signals may be too quick for some pedestrians' safety

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

At least three people have been killed just this year simply trying to get across the street in a Middle Tennessee crosswalk. And in each one of those crashes, family, friends and neighbors had the same complaint: the crossing signal didn't give their elderly or disabled loved one enough time to cross.

The Channel 4 I-Team started asking questions, and officials in two cities have now made changes.

Nedra Harper said she has had too many close calls.

"I've almost been hit by a car several times, and that was my thought when I called," said Harper, who has a disability.

She contacted the Channel 4 I-Team about a crosswalk on James Robertson Parkway in downtown Nashville, complaining there's not enough time to get across.

"The last few times, I was only able to make it to the middle. And the light changed. And if you are standing in between all that traffic whizzing past you, it's unnerving," said Harper.

Harper may be one of the lucky ones. Already this year, there have been at least three people killed in Middle Tennessee crosswalks.

And each time, we heard the same question: do people have enough time to cross, especially the disabled?

Just last week, 71-year-old Allen Hoogewind died crossing Gallatin Pike when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

In April, a car hit Mike Connor on the same street as he crossed in his wheelchair.

And in January, Middle Tennessee State University student David "Ritt" Chitwood died trying to cross Greenland Drive at Middle Tennessee Boulevard in his wheelchair.

MTSU professor Beverly Keel says Chitwood loved music and wanted to one day work in the recording industry. He was well on his way to making that dream happen until his life ended on Greenland Drive.

"There's not enough time for an able-bodied person to cross the street, and something's got to be done about it," said Keel.

Murfreesboro police confirm they are investigating whether something kept Chitwood from getting across the street in the time allowed. A city traffic engineer told the Channel 4 I-Team when Chitwood was killed, the time allowed to cross was 20 seconds. Later, the city said it was 23 seconds.

So, is that long enough at such a busy intersection? The Channel 4 I-Team decided to put it to the test.

We did numerous time trials there. And each time our news crew didn't clear the intersection before the steady "don't walk" signal appeared.

It turns out 23 seconds is less time than what the federal government would recommend for that crosswalk. The "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices" advises signals allow a minimum of 3.5 feet per second for a pedestrian to clear an intersection and more time if the crosswalk is located near hospitals or nursing homes where disabled and elderly people are likely to cross.

The Channel 4 I-Team measured the intersection and found it is 93 feet long. So, doing the math, the crosswalk signal should allow folks at least 27 seconds to get across, under those federal guidelines.

Murfreesboro city officials wouldn't talk to the Channel 4 I-Team on camera for this story. But, in a statement, the city said the times from the feds changed fairly recently and are "not required, but merely recommended."

Still, since the Channel 4 I-Team started asking questions, the city added more time to that signal. It's now set at 29 seconds - at least six more seconds than Chitwood had to get across.

The Disability and Access Center at MTSU wants city engineers to take a closer look at that intersection and others near campus.

"The one thing that has been consistent is the desire to study and see if, indeed as you have already touched upon, there is enough time - if the crosswalk does indeed offer enough time," said Lance Alexis, with the MTSU Disability and Access Center.

And, what about the deaths on Gallatin Pike? We measured and did time trials at the intersection where Mike Connor died in his wheelchair and found its signal allows more time than the feds recommend.

"Based on 3 feet per second, which is the standard for the elderly and disabled, you do have plenty of time to cross," said Metro Nashville Chief Traffic Engineer Chip Knauf.

Investigators say Connor likely crossed against a green light.

As for last week's hit-and-run, a witness told police that the driver may have had a green light as well. But, we don't know since the driver didn't stick around at the scene.

And what about Nedra Harper and her complaints to the I-Team about the downtown Nashville crosswalk on James Robertson Parkway? The city listened to her concerns.

"We bumped it up to 21 seconds, which is now 3 feet per second," said Knauf.

That's good news for Harper, who worries every time she crosses a crosswalk whether she'll get across in time.

"I don't want to be that young man that got run over," said Harper.

Again, Murfreesboro police said they are investigating whether something kept Chitwood from getting across the street near MTSU in the time allowed. But a spokesman for the city says, based on initial reports, Chitwood was hit only a short distance from where he had entered the crosswalk, and it seems unlikely the duration of the crosswalk time contributed in any way to the accident.

That Murfreesboro city spokesman also tells the Channel 4 I-Team they did not have any record of anyone filing a complaint with the city about the signal time at Greenland Drive being too short prior to Chitwood's death.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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