Diana Rowell pointed to a crosswalk on Magnolia Avenue, recalling the exact moment the day before when she almost got hit by a car while crossing the street last week.
“I made it to the middle [of the crosswalk] and then he didn’t even see me,” Rowell, junior in industrial and systems engineering, said. “It was probably like 3 o’clock, so it was broad daylight and he didn’t see me at all.”
She had stopped, preventing the potential accident, but she still has concerns when crossing the avenue and driving along it.
Rowell's situation is familiar to many students walking to and from campus on the different crosswalks along the avenue. Sometimes it’s a distracted driver; sometimes it’s a distracted pedestrian. And sometimes, an accident does happen.
Just last month the City of Auburn had six pedestrian accidents, two of which were fatal. City officials say they look at a variety of factors when evaluating pedestrian infrastructure and safety, while students have come to know they have to be more cautious on certain streets.
By the end of October, there had been 15 pedestrian accidents so far in 2016 — one more than the total in 2015. West Glenn and West Magnolia avenues, which are heavy pedestrian traffic sites, are two areas where incidents occur, said Lt. Jameson Presley of the Auburn Police Division. Opelika Road, Donahue Drive and South College Street are also locations where pedestrian accidents occur.
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Brannon Defore, senior in civil engineering, talks about his experience as a pedestrian and pedestrian safety.
In 2015, the greatest number of incidents that occurred in the same month was three, both in July and October. But there were no fatalities in 2015.
So far this year, the greatest number of incidents that occurred in one month has been six in October.
“I don’t know the reasoning behind it,” Presley said, though he pointed out that accidents generally happen at night. “They’ve actually been in somewhat different areas each time this year in October.”
Two of the incidents in October were at South Donahue, along with one on Shelton Mill Road, one on South College Street, one on North Gay Street and another on VFW Road.
Of the three pedestrian fatalities in 2016, two occurred on South College Street. The third was on Shelton Mill Road.
Presley said he didn’t know the age of the people involved in recent incidents, though the latest citywide collision analysis, completed in 2013, shows that 17 percent of all 2013 pedestrians involved in a collision were 15–19 years old.
Students walking to and from class as well as visitors for football games increase pedestrian traffic in the city, all the while the city’s population is also growing, Presley said.
The 2013 citywide collision analysis said the amount of pedestrians in Auburn was increasing and that the city should put emphasis on educating of drivers, reducing distractions and use of proper reflective gear and lights.
One of the major ways the city strives to educate students on pedestrian safety is through its annual Travel with Care campaign, which the city partners with the University for.
Presley said many students he's talked to hold the misconception that they can step onto a crosswalk regardless of whether traffic is clear.
“You can’t just walk into a pedestrian crosswalk,” Presley said. “You have to wait for traffic to be clear to begin walking across. Now when the pedestrian is in the crosswalk, actively walking, that is the time for the driver to stop.”
Presley urged pedestrian to wear contrasting clothing at night to be more visible to drivers. There is a city ordinance, too, that requires joggers and walkers in the roadway to wear reflective gear during dark hours.
Aside from education, the city also determines which areas to evaluate for new pedestrian infrastructure based on different feedback sources.
Sometimes citizens call and express concerns about an area, said Jeff Ramsey, the city’s Public Works director. But the city also looks at traffic counts of cars and pedestrians at intersections, accident reports, annual crash data, citizen surveys and its safety campaigns to gather feedback.
During the budgeting process, the city evaluates the areas it's heard most about to determine the cost of an improvement project and then decides what is most affordable, Ramsey said, adding that it can take up to two years to get to that point.
For fiscal year 2017, the city budgeted over $5 million to the Public Works department, which spearheads construction and maintenance, engineering design, inspection and traffic engineering for the city. The 2016 fiscal year midbudget shows the department with just over $4.27 million.
In fiscal year 2018, the Public Works budget will dip to about $4.97 million.
One project underway, the North College Streetscape project, includes adding more pedestrian lighting at the intersection of Tichenor Avenue and College Street.
City documents sited the area as the scene of a recent serious vehicle-pedestrian accident, which Ramsey said happened about a couple years back.
“I wouldn’t say that incident alone caused us to do the project, but obviously, that incident, if we’re in that area and we can address something that might help it, then we’re certainly going to do that.”
In fiscal year 2018, the city also plans to add 25 decorative pedestrian style lights on the north side of Magnolia Avenue from Wright Street to Donahue Drive.
“We’ve got streetlights out there, but the trees have grown up so much now that they kind of block the sidewalk from the lighting part of it," Ramsey said. "So the idea was that we needed some pedestrian-level lights to really light up the sidewalks."
The city added more lighting, message boards and decorative crosswalks on Magnolia between College Street and Donahue Drive about five or six years ago, which reduced pedestrian accidents, Ramsey said.
The avenue has several midblock crosswalks — which are not at intersections with traffic signals but instead are at different parts of the street — that do not have technology to signal when pedestrians are crossing.
The type of crosswalk "inherently isn't ideal" compared to intersection crosswalks because the only way to signal to drivers that someone is crossing is to actually begin crossing, said Forrest Cotten, director of Planning.
Sarah Gaines, junior in industrial and systems engineering, said she's on high alert when driving on Magnolia Avenue, especially at night, in fear that she may hit someone crossing the street.
“I definitely think Magnolia’s the worst,” Gaines said when reflecting on other crosswalks and intersections in town. “I think it’s a problem because I’ve never driven on a road that has this many crosswalks and has so much pedestrian traffic.”
However she said safety is the responsibility of both pedestrians and drivers.
Right now the city is focusing on installing sidewalks along Moores Mill Road, Ramsey said, as well as adding sidewalks and pedestrian lights near the new high school site on East University Drive and Glenn and Samford avenues.
The city is set to complete its next citywide collision study by 2017.
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