By Lakota Denton, photo above by Jake Frankel
There’s no easy way to say it: Asheville is the most dangerous city in the state for pedestrians. This is according to a Department of Transportation report about pedestrian accidents from 2008-2012. And with the steady increase in Asheville’s population, it’s not getting any better.
As a personal injury lawyer, I get telephone calls from people who are hit by cars while crossing Asheville’s city streets. People are killed. People are seriously injured. After speaking with other Asheville lawyers about pedestrian injuries and fatalities, a consistent theme emerges: Drivers don’t stop for people crossing the street. They don’t stop if you are in a crosswalk; they don’t stop if you are at an intersection; they don’t stop if you are on a small side street. When crossing the street in Asheville, you are on your own if you don’t want to get hit.
I represent the family of a woman who was killed crossing Merrimon Avenue last January. I represented a man killed crossing Patton Avenue in 2013. I represented a man who broke both legs when he was hit crossing Tunnel Road in 2012.
Why are so many people being hit crossing the streets in Asheville? Increased tourism, increased traffic, curvy and hilly roads all may play a part. But I’ve identified two factors that I think are the most likely: Not enough crosswalks and poor police enforcement.
Not enough crosswalks: The man I represented that was killed crossing Patton Avenue was not crossing in a crosswalk. Remarkably, there is no crosswalk at the Patton Avenue intersection with Leicester highway. To cross legally, you must walk either West up a steep hill to Druid Drive, or East to Louisiana Avenue. But, there is a bus stop at the intersection of Patton Ave and Leicester Highway, where people exit the bus and then try to cross to get home or to the Ingles grocery store. There is simply no safe way to do it, and people will not, and should not, have to walk a quarter mile down to a crosswalk and then a quarter mile back. Instead, people risk crossing outside the crosswalk, and it’s dangerous. My client was killed attempting it.
Why aren’t there crosswalks near bus stops? I’ve represented people who were injured crossing from their bus stop to their apartment complex and there was no crosswalk anywhere near the bus stop. There needs to be crosswalks in locations that make sense; locations that don’t ask people to hike a quarter mile to a crosswalk, because that simply doesn’t happen – and the result is increased pedestrian accidents.
Even when people are crossing in a crosswalk, nobody ever seems to stop. Asheville police do not enforce the state law to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Look around while you drive or walk – you will see dozens of people standing in a crosswalk trying to cross, and nobody stops. When a car does miraculously stop for a pedestrian, they are honked at and sometimes rear-ended for stopping in the middle of a busy road. Why don’t the Asheville police ever write citations for this? My firm used to handle hundreds of speeding and traffic tickets per month and we’ve never seen a citation for a ‘failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk’.
I walk my toddler in a stroller up and down Haywood Road in West Asheville. When I nudge the stroller out into the street within a crosswalk, nobody ever stops. Ever. Isn’t failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk extremely dangerous, given the recent study that indicates that Asheville is the most dangerous city in the state for pedestrians? Why aren’t the Asheville police enforcing this law? I’m sure the police would not be against the obvious revenue stream of the increased traffic citations. It might cause people to obey the state law and actually yield to pedestrians. It might make Asheville safer for pedestrians.
In cases I’ve handled, the drivers who hit pedestrians are not bad people, or drunk people, or even people texting while driving. They just never think to look out for pedestrians because its never been enforced. These accidents are preventable; we just need more crosswalks at good locations, and better police enforcement.
Lakota Denton is a personal injury lawyer in Asheville, NC. He lives in West Asheville, and crosses streets at a full sprint.