After a pedestrian was struck and killed on the Septima P. Clark Parkway early Thursday morning, debate has reignited about how to make the deadly eight-lane highway safer for people on foot.
The man, who has not been identified publicly, was hit shortly before 6 a.m. near the busy Coming Street intersection. He was outside a crosswalk and had disobeyed a traffic signal when a southbound vehicle struck him, Charleston police said.
His death marked at least the fourth pedestrian fatality at the intersection since 2012. That portion of the highway, colloquially known as the Crosstown, has been a target of scrutiny in recent years. Critics have lambasted the layout of the Coming Street intersection as unsafe and poorly designed, often prompting pedestrians to put themselves in harm's way while trying to make it to the other side.
Lynnette Ranz has pushed for a change after her daughter, Lindsey, 21, was fatally struck by a pick-up truck while jogging at the same intersection in January 2014. But she hasn't seen the change, she said.
"It’s the third time someone’s been hit since I lost her," Ranz said. "I’d love to just scream as loud as I can to fix the intersection before it happens again. I will do anything to promote safety changes to that intersection that is incredibly unsafe. … People are getting killed."
Improvements for pedestrian access to the Crosstown have long been a part of conversations inside City Hall, Planning Director Jacob Lindsey said.
“It runs right through the city center and is a prime route of travel for everyone in Charleston,” Lindsey said. “We think some reasonable common sense improvements could be evaluated at this intersection.”
Lindsey said city officials were open to talking with DOT representatives about the Crosstown, although no meeting had been arranged as of Thursday evening.
He mentioned possible solutions that city officials would propose to DOT: automatic pedestrian-detection devices, increased pedestrian crossing times on street signals and the installation of street markings that indicate stop locations for cars farther from crosswalks.
“I don’t know how many deaths have to happen before someone fixes it,” Ranz said.
A DOT study to determine the feasibility of a pedestrian-crossing bridge over the Crosstown was commissioned in 2014, shortly after Lindsey’s death.
To Ranz’s dismay, the study did not recommend the construction of a pedestrian bridge at the Coming Street intersection, despite a lawmaker and advocates calling for one before the study.
Instead, it recommended improving caution signs and modernizing the decades-old pedestrian bridge near the Rutledge Avenue intersection. But critics have said the old span is not reasonably accessible to those trying to cross near Coming Street.
“I told the Department of Transportation, I did not concur with their findings,” said Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, who initially advocated for the study to be done. “And I still don’t.”
Gilliard penned a letter to the DOT on Thursday after learning of the latest fatality. He wants a Senate vote to approve emergency funding to begin construction of a pedestrian bridge.
“I feel that a more thorough look at this area would definitively prove that now is truly the time to make a bridge happen,” he wrote.
One way state legislators have sought to address the problem is to create a law requiring cars to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks that don't have signals. But the measure has likely stalled.
The proposal advanced to the House floor last year, but opponents who disagreed on the penalty for violators of such a law sent it back to a committee. An attempt Thursday to bring the amended bill back to the floor for a vote failed on a single objection.
“There’s no reason a car shouldn’t have to legally stop for a pedestrian,” said Amy Johnson Ely, director of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition that advocated for the bill.
Further up the street problems persist, even with the pedestrian bridge. People don't always use it.
Justin Nathanson, 43, and his wife Erin were walking to lunch March 23 when they crossed the Rutledge Avenue intersection, a wide, well-marked street, when a truck turned on their walk signal.
As they crossed the Rutledge Avenue intersection on the Crosstown on the afternoon of March 23, the other end of the street was in sight. Then came the truck turning right on a red light. The driver, Nathanson recalled, had been looking to make sure there were no oncoming vehicles. But he didn’t look toward the crosswalk or notice the pedestrians.
Both the Nathansons were struck, though Justin said he walked away with bruising. Erin remains on full bed rest with a shattered tibia.
“Our entire lives have been turned upside down since that moment,” Justin said. “It’s quite crazy how that can happen in an instant.”