Cobb County Police charged Altamesa Walker, the victim of a tragic pedestrian-vehicle crash, with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct. Why? Because on November 17, 2008 while crossing South Cobb Drive to get to a bus stop, she and her children were hit by a car and her 4-year-old daughter was killed. The charges suggest that Ms. Walker was careless, inattentive, perhaps foolish to have tried to cross the 5-lane roadway.
News reports all emphasize that the pedestrians “were not in a crosswalk.” None mention, however, that the nearest crosswalk is 1055 ft away–which is over two standard city blocks. Using the nearest crosswalk to get to the bus stop would require nearly a half mile detour. It’s unreasonable to expect any pedestrian to walk that far just to get across the street.
The AJC reporter claims the family was “trying to dart” across the street. “Dart” suggests a rapid, dashing, possibly haphazard movement. No evidence supports this. The mother says she crossed to the center turn lane and waited there for a car to pass. She saw a gap in traffic and attempted to finish crossing.
What about the driver? The crash occurred at 6:15am just before sunrise. The mother claims the driver’s lights weren’t on. Was the driver on a cell phone or otherwise distracted? Was the driver speeding? Pedestrians hit at 40mph have an 85% chance of being killed. Pedestrians hit at 30mph have about a 50-50 chance of survival. Hit at just 20mph, 95% of pedestrians survive. So clearly, speed helped determine the chance of fatality in this case.
PEDS has urged Cobb County (see our letter (PDF)) and other jurisdictions to install pedestrian refuge islands in the middle of multi-lane roads like South Cobb Drive wherever transit stops are located. These aren’t midblock “crosswalks.” They’re concrete islands that enable pedestrians to cross busy streets in two stages, with a safe place to wait in the middle. It’s shameful that transportation agencies have failed to provide safe crossings for pedestrians, even at the most obvious spots: bus stops.