Deadly intersection getting new warning signs

One of the signs that was put up at the intersection of Coming Street and the Crosstown to advise pedestrians when to cross. (Brad Nettles/Staff) 5/22/14

A deadly Charleston intersection soon will get warning signs designed to make it safer for pedestrians.

New signs reading "NOTICE - TWO STAGE CROSSING - WAIT FOR NEXT SIGNAL" will be placed at the intersection of Coming Street and the Crosstown as soon as final permission comes from the state Department of Transportation, which has authority over the highway, city traffic officials said.

Robert Clark, district engineering director for the Transportation Department, said the permit should come through within a week or two.

Two pedestrians, both 21-year-old College of Charleston students, were killed in the intersection 14 months apart. Lindsey Ranz was struck and killed on Jan. 13. Hannah-Rose Elledge died on Nov. 17, 2012. In both cases, police said, the pedestrians were at fault for not crossing with a walk light.

Many pedestrians who cross the intersection describe it as unsafe for walkers. They say it even invites risk-taking by pedestrians because the walk light lasts just a few seconds, not long enough to cross the six-lane highway. Pedestrians routinely run to get across the highway, officially known as the Septima P. Clark Parkway, before the flashing warning seconds count down.

City officials contend that the pedestrian lights are not designed for crossing the entire highway on one walk light. Instead, they say, pedestrians are supposed to cross first to the median and wait for a second green walk signal to finish crossing the highway.

The new warning signs are intended to inform pedestrians. At the time of the fatalities, no sign at the intersection indicated pedestrians were supposed to cross in two stages.

After Ranz's death, the city conducted a safety evaluation of the intersection. It found that caution signs for pedestrians would help lessen the danger and the city sent that recommendation to the Transportation Department. At that same time, the city, with state approval, installed a sign telling pedestrians to cross only when the green walk figure is lit.

Lynnette Ranz, the mother of the student killed at the intersection in January, has waged a campaign to get safety improvements. She supports the building of a pedestrian overpass to separate pedestrians and cars. The Legislature is set to study that possibility.

Ranz said she's pleased the city is upgrading the warning signs but believes the real problem is speeding by motorists focused on entering Interstate 26.

The traffic light at Coming Street is the last one before northbound motorists on the Crosstown enter I-26. Ranz said she has watched as motorists routinely speed up as they get to the light. When the light turns yellow, which means prepare to stop, they often gun their engines, occasionally crossing on a red light.

Police say Ranz's daughter was hit when she stepped into the pedestrian crossing while the traffic light was yellow.

A recent nationwide study by two advocacy groups, Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition, ranked South Carolina as the fourth worst in the nation for pedestrian danger.

Only Florida, Alabama and Louisiana rated worst.

Reach Doug Pardue at 937-5558.