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After five deaths, simple change is saving lives on Utah roadway

Published August 12, 2014 8:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ogden • Lately, it's been nearly the same every day. From inside St. Anne's Center, executive director Jennifer Canter hears the screech of brakes.

Sometimes she hears the crunch of bumpers colliding.

She automatically knows: Someone's in the crosswalk. A driver suddenly stopped. Often, the driver behind doesn't.

The damage to the cars is unfortunate, Canter said, but she's grateful that it's not another pedestrian hit by a car.

In recent years, several people — many of them clients of the homeless shelter — have been struck and killed by motorists while walking across Wall Avenue, one of Ogden's main thoroughfares.

A crosswalk installed last year has helped, but even after the lines were painted on the asphalt, two more people died while crossing the state-owned road.

It's a problem that has shaken the homeless population in Ogden.

"It's been devastating to some of our clients [when a pedestrian is hit]," she said. "We've had to have grief counselors."

Canter said it's difficult for pedestrians to cross through five lanes of traffic, with cars traveling between 40 mph and 50 mph, to reach the shelter, at 137 W. Binford Ave. Pedestrians have to walk nearly three blocks north or south to reach the nearest stoplight intersection.

"They are all coming here because they sleep here," Canter said. "They eat here. There's no safe access [to the facility without crossing Wall Avenue.]"

Since 2009, Ogden police have responded to seven auto-pedestrian accidents in a two-block stretch of Wall Avenue. Five people died in those accidents.

According to police reports obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a records request, most accidents occurred in the winter months between 6 and 7 p.m.

Police officers noted in reports filed in three of the fatal accidents that the pedestrians were walking across the road in the middle of a street block — not near an intersection and not in a crosswalk.

"Generally, it is the pedestrian that is at fault when they are crossing the roadway at locations other than marked crosswalks or unmarked crosswalks at intersections," Ogden police Lt. Kevin Cottrell said. "When pedestrians are hit within the crosswalk, it is generally the driver of the automobile at fault."

"It wasn't enough" • After David Saures was killed while walking across Wall Avenue near 26th Street on Christmas Eve in 2012, the Utah Department of Transportation conducted a traffic study. According to that study, UDOT's criteria for installing a crosswalk requires that 20 pedestrians cross the street per hour. When UDOT employees observed the area, they found that 51 pedestrians crossed Wall Avenue between 5 and 6 p.m. and 66 people crossed between 7 and 8 a.m.

After UDOT concluded that one was needed, a crosswalk was painted and yellow pedestrian crossing signs were erected in the summer of 2013 at the Binford and Wall avenues intersection.

"The crosswalk certainly was helpful," Canter said. "But it wasn't enough."

Since the crosswalk was installed, two people have died while crossing Wall Avenue between 26th and 28th Streets — Tiffany Phipps, 32, who was walking in the crosswalk when she was struck in November, and a man whose name was redacted from police reports, killed in December 2013 after crossing midblock near 27th Street.

After Phipps' death, Canter said UDOT quickly added overhead lights that illuminated the street and flashing lights on the pedestrian crossing signs.

"The crosswalk, frankly, didn't do anything," Canter said. "It was the lights. Once the lights were installed, we haven't had anyone hit in the crosswalk."

UDOT spokesman Vic Saunders said though the white lines were painted on the road a year ago, lighting and electric signs were not added until January of this year.

"There was a delay in getting all of the equipment needed to activate the signs and provide power to them, and then in getting a contractor to install them," he said.

Because there have not been any auto-pedestrian accidents since the crosswalk was completed in January, Saunders said there is no plan for UDOT to re-evaluate the intersection to see if any other action should be taken.

Phipps' mother, Holly Wood, said she thinks the crosswalk gives pedestrians "false security."

"My hope is that the lights there are helping more people," she said. "I'm afraid to even try to use it. I've never done it. But from watching them, it seems like it's helping [drivers] to stop."

Safer street • Canter said the pairing of the crosswalk with the new lights has made the area safer.

She said she hopes motorists will slow down and be more cautious when driving that section of Wall Avenue, treating the area like they would a school zone or if they saw a "deer crossing" sign.

"People disregard that a human life has been lost, just because they are homeless, or they were intoxicated, or they may have caused the accident," Canter said.

Cottrell said he also believes the crossing signals, paired with a reduction of the speed limit on Wall Avenue to 40 mph, are helping make the roadway safer.

"We still have drivers that fail to pay attention to the crossing signals," he said. "And we still have pedestrians that will not cross at the crosswalk, but overall, it is a safer area."

Police have issued dozens of citations in that area, Cottrell said, to both drivers who speed or don't yield to pedestrians and to pedestrians who aren't crossing where they should.

Cottrell said when the crossing lights were first installed, officers spent a substantial amount of time patrolling the area. He said there were a few "near misses" during that time — including drivers who nearly hit officers doing crosswalk enforcement operations — but after several months, people have become more accustomed to the crosswalk.

St. Anne's Center is moving to a location near 33rd Street and Pacific Avenue in March, Canter said. She said UDOT officials told her they'll erect a similar crosswalk farther south on Wall Avenue.

Though their new building is about two blocks west of Wall Avenue, Canter said people will still cross the busy street to get to the center of Ogden for other services.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller Auto-pedestrian accidents on Wall Avenue

Since 2009, seven pedestrians have been hit while crossing Wall Avenue between 26th and 28th Streets.

• Dec. 16, 2010: Frank Gallegos was struck and killed while crossing in the intersection of Wall Avenue and 28th Street. The driver fled after the accident, according to media reports, but came forward to police several days later.

• May 12, 2011: A woman was "bumped" by a vehicle while crossing Wall Avenue near 26th Street, according to a police report. She reported that she had a bruised leg, and asked to be taken to a hospital.

• Jan. 21, 2012: A pedestrian was taken to the hospital with a broken leg after being struck by a car on Wall Avenue.

• Dec. 24, 2012: David Saures was struck and killed while crossing Wall Avenue in the 2600 block. The driver who struck Saures drove off, and was never located.

• Feb. 25, 2013: Daniel Thobe was struck and killed crossing Wall Avenue near 26th Street.

• June 2013: Crosswalk is erected on Wall Avenue near Binford Avenue.

• Nov. 21, 2013: Tiffany Phipps was walking in the Binford Avenue crosswalk with a man when were both struck. She later died. The driver told police that "he did not see the pedestrians until it was too late," according to police reports.

• Dec. 18, 2013: A man walking mid-block on Wall Avenue near 28th Street was struck and killed. The driver told police that "she never saw him until she hit him," according to a police report.