Stand on a street corner in the heart of King Street's shopping district and you'll wonder why the city bothers with crossing lanes to begin with. Or drive through the College of Charleston campus and watch as students trek from sidewalk to sidewalk with only a quick glance in the direction of oncoming traffic, as if to say, "Hey, I'm walking here!" If there's a code of conduct for Charleston's pedestrians, it's not "Wait for the light" — it's "One foot in front of the other."
Pedestrian fatalities in South Carolina have climbed from 97 in 2005 to 125 last year. Charleston County led the state with 15 deaths in 2006, the highest of any county in at least five years. So far this year, fatalities statewide are at 26, five deaths more than the same time last year.
To address the climb, the state Highway Patrol is expanding a Chester County pilot program that began in 2005 called Stop, Educate, and Enforce (SEE). The program has contributed to a 43 percent reduction in pedestrian fatalities in Chester. Through the program, officers alert pedestrians if they are seen walking in the street, typically offering a warning unless the person is intoxicated.
Most of the state efforts will focus on rural roads, where a majority of the fatalities occur.
"Pedestrian deaths are by and large not occurring with joggers, walkers, and people crossing the street who tend to take a defensive posture when interacting with traffic," says Highway Patrol Col. Russell Roark. "People are getting killed on rural roadways at night, wearing dark clothing. Many of them are intoxicated and already lying in the roadway."
Last week, the City of Charleston announced its own pedestrian safety campaign, in partnership with local schools and safety advocacy groups, focusing on the "Three E's: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement."
"It's aimed at making our communities and our streets and our intersections safer for all of our people, but especially our children," says Mayor Joe Riley.
The education aspect will include a massive awareness campaign for both pedestrians and drivers, with brochures and posters at the Department of Motor Vehicles, hotels, hospitals, libraries, schools, and on CARTA buses. The city will also be organizing pedestrian safety forums for schools and communities.
"Both the pedestrians and drivers have rights and responsibilities in our streets," Riley says. "It's important that both drivers and pedestrians have as much information as possible about pedestrian safety."
Unlike the state plan, the city will be focusing its enforcement on drivers, strictly enforcing speed limits, school zones, pedestrian crossing areas, and turning restrictions.
"We're going to make sure drivers respect that aspect of our law," Riley says, "So that crosswalks give pedestrians greater certainty of safety."
The engineering portion will involve a $500,000 replacement program, paid for with the assistance of federal grants, that will include:
• Repainting all crosswalks with a highly reflective material to enhance visibility.
• Placing warning signs at all crosswalks at nonsignalized intersections.
• Replacing lighted pedestrian signals with the new "countdown" model that gives both drivers and pedestrians a clear indication of how long before you need to get the hell out of the way.
• Installing new, brighter signs at school crossings and equipping crossing guards with signs to place in the middle of the road during peak hours.
The city is also looking at ways to further slow traffic in pedestrian areas by possibly opening more one-way streets to two-way traffic, including Ashley and Rutledge avenues and Spring and Cannon streets; installing more "No Turn on Red" signs; re-engineering certain intersections to encourage walkability, including the Maybank Highway and Folly Road intersection; creating certain intersections where all traffic stops to allow pedestrians to walk freely; and installing more raised crosswalks like those recently added at South Windermere Shopping Center.
"This isn't just a little get-together to get some publicity," Riley says, noting he has established a Bike and Pedestrian Enhancement Committee. "This is the beginning of a sustained, substantial enhancement in pedestrian safety in our city."
• Motorists should use high beams when possible and should be on the lookout for pedestrians.
• Pedestrians should always wear retro-reflective clothing that reflects light back to drivers at dusk or night, particular on their elbows, knees, and ankles, in addition to the chest. They should at the very least wear white clothing.