Lynette Ranz' abiding grief is morphing to a stern determination to honor her late daughter - and maybe save some lives.
She's begging for public attention to the Coming Street intersection with the Septima P. Clark Parkway, aka "the Crosstown."
That would be where Interstate 26 begins and ends in a blur of vehicular speed and volume on peninsular Charleston.
And that is where Mrs. Ranz' pretty 21-year-old daughter, Lindsey, was fatally injured in an early-evening Jan. 13 accident.
By definition, Mrs. Ranz asserts, this intersection is fundamentally unsafe; after all, her Lindsey is the second College of Charleston co-ed killed there in the last 16 months.
And she argues that Lindsey, so careful and thoughtful, was likely confused or misled or both when she jogged up to the intersection in the winter evening darkness, and waited before stepping into the Crosstown only to be hit immediately by a north-bound pickup truck.
"My daughter would never have entered a green-lighted intersection; she was too careful and too smart."
Official accident reports absolved the truck driver of fault. That simply reinforces Mrs. Ranz' conclusion that the intersection's design and controls are deficient in inducing safety in the joint-use interactions of vehicles and pedestrians.
"We've shown that all these cars are speeding toward the ramp and the pedestrian signal just doesn't provide enough time for a safe crossing," she says.
The raw grief of a mother who has lost a child magnifies her frustration: "Too bad for two beautiful young women and their families that we care more about beautifying this intersection than making it safe."
Her message is resonating, especially after her testimony before the S.C. House of Representatives Motor Vehicles Subcommittee. She showed the legislators post-accident video clips that documented speeding drivers and short pedestrian crossing times - and a troubling pattern of red light running at the Coming Street intersection.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, knows the Coming Street neighborhood well.
"What doesn't make any sense is to have two deaths in an area," Gilliard said. "We have warnings signs and lights now, but we're going to funerals."
Rep. Gilliard has proposed a special $10,000 appropriation for a fast-tracked study of the intersection and presumably a list of design solutions. Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek, supports Gilliard. He says he uses the Crosstown often and sees the driving patterns documented in Mrs. Ranz' videos.
The Crosstown is a state highway running through a municipality. The blending of state and local jurisdictional responsibilities for roads too often defies public expectations. The S.C. DOT is a ponderous, bureaucratic, underfunded agency. But surely it is nimble enough to give the "urgent" consideration Rep. Gilliard has demanded.
"One life lost is one too many," Gilliard says.
The city of Charleston is not waiting for a study. It has petitioned S.C. DOT for state-of-the-art signs and equipment to encourage pedestrian alertness and more intensive warnings to motorists about pedestrians at the crossing.
Lynette Ranz' summary message is about the priorities of pedestrians - and all of us should be listening.
Pedestrians' deaths throughout the nation are rising, especially in urban areas. A recent study ranked South Carolina's pedestrian death rate surprisingly high, fourth among all states, behind Florida, Delaware and Arizona.
Pedestrian safety is a universal concern in Greater Charleston. Thanks to Mrs. Ranz, the Crosstown's pedestrian hazards are now in focus, but more pedestrians have been killed in recent years on North Charleston's Ashley Phosphate Road. And after each of those deaths, North Charleston City Councilman Rhonda Jerome renewed her pleas to S.C. DOT for better crosswalks and elevated crosswalks along the six-lane highway.
Five years ago, the Federal Highway Administration recommended that states increase by 15 percent the amount of time traffic signals provide pedestrians to cross the street after the flashing orange hand appears. If the S.C. DOT complied with this directive in 2009, maybe it's time the agency increased the timing another 15 per cent, especially at crosswalks like the Crosstown at Coming.
In Portland, Ore., half of pedestrian injuries occur in crosswalks. Police there focus on enforcement, posting signs warning drivers of "crosswalk enforcement ahead."
Pedestrian decoys often work with motorcycle cops ready to write costly tickets. Portland also has an "I Brake for People" campaign to educate drivers. And, in a notable commitment to the priority of pedestrian safety, Portland has a "pedestrian safety" coordinator.
Phoenix is replacing 1,000 traditional traffic lights with countdown-timer signals that tell people how many seconds they have to cross. Reportedly, these signals cut pedestrian accidents by up to 25 percent. The City of Alexandria, Va., likes the timers, too, having equipped more than 50 intersections with the devices which cost about $1,000 each.
Lynette Ranz is translating her grief to a timely campaign of awareness and, let us all hope, a renewed public commitment to pedestrian safety all over South Carolina.
She's speaking for all of us.
Her daughter would be mighty proud.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston City Councilman. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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