By Maureen McDonald
Cross city streets with great trepidation – your life could be at stake.
One of the big areas of concern in Detroit is Davidson Ave., the connector between the intersection of the Lodge and I-96 freeways and I-75. It may link the three freeways but it is also a neighborhood with residents and visitors who need to be kept safe when crossing the street.
The lure for pedestrians and drivers alike is the abundance of fast food outlets around Davison and Linwood, including a White Castle, McDonald’s, KFC and numerous other restaurants. Travelers also include people going to church, schools and grocery stores nearby.
“The road (Davison) is not well designed for pedestrians. There are very few places that pedestrians can cross safely,” said Debbie Fisher, director of Hope Village for Focus: HOPE, the nationally renowned civil and human rights coalition based in the area. “I think it is an injustice that folks who do not live in the neighborhood drive through at enormous rates of speed and the lights are timed to allow that to happen.”
The Michigan State Police came to the street with monitoring equipment and found drivers average 20 miles over the posted 35 mph speed limit on the six lanes of traffic.
In the past five years, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ (SEMCOG) database recorded 910 crashes on the two-mile stretch, resulting in 20 people losing their lives and more than 225 being seriously injured.
“Any time you have activity centers – bus stops, restaurants, convenience stores – it is human nature to take the shortest, quickest, most convenient way to get there. But not always the safest,” says Brian Pawlik, a pedestrian and bicycle planner for SEMCOG.
Safety experts like Pawlik are seeking to make commercial hubs, like the Davidson, in urban areas safer for all transportation modes.
“We need to accommodate all the various roadway users – pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, local motorists, local delivery vehicles, and regional passenger and freight movements,” he says.
On the Davidson, pedestrian refuge islands at key intervals, walk signals and fresh painted crosswalks are not enough, according to Focus: HOPE administrators who oversee the 5,000 people in the Hope Village neighborhood near the Focus: HOPE campus. Residents and stakeholders are stepping up and seeking action. It is a concern that reverberates around urban hubs across Michigan.
Last month volunteers from SEMCOG, Michigan Department of Transportation, the City of Detroit, Michigan State Police and Hope Village held a safety blitz to help educate pedestrians on safety and visibility and help assess the traffic dangers. The ongoing campaign is called “LOOK! Davison, Be Safe! Be Seen!”
Volunteers passed out glow-in-the-dark wristbands and made suggestions about wearing reflective clothing and carrying flashlights. SEMCOG staff members demonstrated how to use the push-button walk signals that help alert traffic to pedestrian use at crosswalks.
“A message we attempted to convey is the lives of road users matter to us,” said a traffic engineer from MDOT who declined to be identified. “Many of the people we spoke with knew someone who had been fatally hit. Yet some would finish a conversation with one of our Safety Blitz volunteers and proceed to jaywalk. It is extremely challenging to convince some road users to even think about their road behavior (jaywalking, distracted driving, drunk driving, speeding, running reds, hit-and-run).
“This Safety Blitz was one of the first steps in this process, educating the public, enforcing the speed limit, and gathering data that can help with future policies, programs and design solutions,” said the MDOT engineer.
Leaders from Hope Village are working with MDOT to develop safety improvements for Davison such as better lighting and signage at pedestrian crossing areas and better traffic lights timed to aid pedestrians. Coalitions like this can help urban communities around Michigan enjoy safe streets.
“Safety assemblies are planned for schools, and additional safety blitzes are planned for the future,” said Hope Village’s Fisher.
Ongoing groups will address education, traffic engineering, and police enforcement to make the streets safer.
“Pedestrians need to LOOK and always make eye-contact with drivers. If a pedestrian can’t see the eyes of a driver, the pedestrian should not assume the driver sees the pedestrian . . . even if crossing at a crosswalk,” said the MDOT engineer.