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Pedestrian deaths up compared to last year, despite fewer cars on the road due to COVID-19

A file photo of a crosswalk (WPDE file)
A file photo of a crosswalk (WPDE file)
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Police data shows more pedestrians are dying on Nashville roads compared to the same time last year. This comes as fewer drivers are on the roads because of COVID-19.

Metro Police and Walk Bike Nashville, a Nashville nonprofit, have pedestrian hotspots that they focus on. So far this year, there’s been 11 pedestrian fatalities. That’s compared to nine from this time last year.

That doesn’t sound like much. But when there’s been fewer drivers on the roads, and last year was a record-breaking year from pedestrian deaths, the executive director of Walk Bike Nashville said that’s a problem.

“It’s really troubling to see our streets are actually performing worse or even more dangerous today than they were last year,” Nora Kern, executive director of Walk Bike Nashville, said.

Kern said it’s the streets themselves that are the problem.

“Until we really make our streets safer, we know we’re not going to fix the problem of the rising number pedestrian fatalities.”

Tyler Page knows that all too well.

She lived in Hermitage until early May, when she decided to move to Atlanta. She wanted a fresh start after the March 3 tornado, and a driver killed her mother last year.

“I really was supposed to be the one that got hit,” Page said. “But because my mom pushed me, she didn’t have time to get herself out of the way, because we were holding hands.”

She said people need to pay more attention on the roads and slow down.

“Just because people are being quarantined, you still have to follow the rules,” Page said. “You still have to follow the laws that are put in place.”

Walk Bike Nashville has a plan called Vision Zero. It wants to stop all traffic deaths and serious injuries. The mayor’s office committed to that in January.

That was a very different Nashville, but the mayor’s office said it remains fully committed to the cause, and will kick off the official vision zero action plan this summer.

Here’s the full statement:

“Every pedestrian death is a tremendous lost [sic] for our community. The Mayor’s Office is committed to saving lives and helping to prevent these avoidable crashes, which is why Mayor Cooper joined Walk Bike Nashville in January to announce Nashville’s commitment Vision Zero.
Since committing to Vision Zero, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure held 11 transportation plan community listening sessions across Davidson County, along with dozens of other listening sessions with members of Metro Council, stakeholder organizations, and community leaders. These listening sessions gathered valuable feedback on our residents’ priorities on improving pedestrian safety and preparing the foundation of the Vision Zero Action Plan.
Metro Nashville, in partnership with transportation stakeholders and the public, will be kicking of its formal Vision Zero Action Plan process late this summer to help eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries in Nashville and Davidson County. It is expected that the plan will be ready for implementation by early 2021. An existing grant through Metro Planning will fund the Action Plan.
We remain fully committed to working with our valued community partners like Walk Bike Nashville to work towards achieving Vision Zero to protect all current and future generations of Nashvillians.”
Metro Police say increased enforcement may help as well.

Lt. Mike Gilliland, the traffic section commander, said they had to scale back enforcement because of COVID-19. Police data shows there’s been 125 total crashes involving pedestrians year to date.

Gilliland said he thinks more patrols will help with preventing crashes in general. Pedestrian-involved crashes are a little more challenging to gauge.

“I’m pretty confident I can say there will be fewer crashes in general,” Gilliland said. “The pedestrian crashes are throwing a whole another variable into it.”

Here’s a breakdown from Metro Police when it comes to pedestrian crashes:

Of the 11 pedestrian-related crashes so far, eight pedestrians were in the roadway as a contributing factor.

Police said they have toxicology reports on six of the cases. Four were impaired, with one on meth, and three on alcohol.

The other two cases are still pending.

In two of the 11 cases, the driver didn’t stay in their lane, and the remaining crash’s cause is still under investigation.

Kern said she’s like to see simple, relatively-cheap measures put in place to make the streets safer, like crosswalks or flashing beacons.

“We don’t have to do the really expensive version, or the shiniest and the glossiest version, but we need to get things in today that make our street safer,” Kern said.

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Walk Bike Nashville has a virtual meeting planned about Vision Zero. It’s Tuesday, May 19 from 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. You can register here.

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