Pedestrian safety long-running concern in Dover

A pedestrian crosses U.S. 13 at the corner of W.hite Oak Road Thursday. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

A pedestrian crosses U.S. 13 at the corner of W.hite Oak Road Thursday. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Christopher Hermance knew why the vehicles were honking.

Folks were darting across U.S. 13 where the most recent pedestrian accident had occurred.

The dangerous cycle, it seemed, was repeating itself.

Nationwide, Delaware is near the top for most deadly collisions between pedestrian and vehicle, officials said.

A 16-year-old Dover male was the latest fatality earlier this month.

Christopher Hermance

Christopher Hermance

Even as Lt. Hermance, Dover Police Department’s Collision Reconstruction Unit commander, investigated the latest fatality near Evergreen Drive, people were taking the same dangerous path across the highway to get a closer look.

“A group of individuals cut across the southbound lanes into the median and I heard horns blaring,” said Lt. Hermance, who had just returned from a conference covering roadway safety issues. “Without looking over there I knew what was happening.”

Neither the car with its shattered windshield nor the blood pooled on the pavement dissuaded people from copying risky behavior that brought death after the 7:58 p.m. March 11 collision.

Officers chided some of those who were risking danger to get closer to the scene. Despite police efforts, more pedestrians were seen crossing the highway as police departed.

“It’s frustrating, it’s scary,” Lt. Hermance said. “People get hurt …”

The Dover Police officer to arrive first found an unsettled situation with civilians directing backed-up Friday evening traffic as a nurse who happened to drive by performed CPR on the victim.

The teen later died at Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital.

Police identified a northbound white Chevrolet Impala as initially striking the teen, but also believe another car — possibly a black 1990s model Ford Mustang — was involved. The cars left the area before police arrived.

A Delaware State University student crosses U.S. 13 against the light while her eyes are on her cellphone.

A Delaware State University student crosses U.S. 13 against the light while her eyes are on her cellphone.

Two other vehicles swerved to miss the injured youth, according to authorities. No charges were filed, police said earlier this week.

After responding to dozens of pedestrian and vehicle collisions in 19 years, Lt. Hermance can’t shake some memories. “It does stick around with you,” he said.

He described the somewhat businesslike approach to handling complaints that might roll in all day. You take care of business and move on, he said. But not always.

“With the fatals I’ve handled, I have vivid images and detailed information that I can still remember,” Lt. Hermance said. “I really don’t like going to them.”

According to police, the 16-year-old who died was in dark clothes, crossing with a friend in an unlighted area of U.S. 13 with no crosswalk. It is a somewhat quiet stretch of the divided road, also known as DuPont Highway, since a number of businesses have closed there.

State’s dangerous roadways

For months now, Delaware law enforcement and governmental entities have collaborated to create proactive response to walking and running on the state’s dangerous roadways.

In November 2015, Delaware’s Office of Highway Safety launched a campaign including pedestrian safety issues. Thirty pedestrians had died on roadways by that date, compared to 27 in all of 2014.

Highway Safety paid for outreach and education patrols beginning Nov. 5 among state and municipal police departments through Dec. 19. That allowed officers to pass out safety-themed literature and small flashlights to improve pedestrian visibility on the roads.

In 2015, Delaware saw 331 pedestrian crashes — 35 of which resulted in fatalities — according to AAA-Mid Atlantic. That represented a 10

SAFETY TIPS The Delaware Office of Highway Safety and AAA-Mid Atlantic offered tips on how to remain safe on the road and behind the driver’s wheel: Pedestrians: • Cross only in crosswalks or at intersections with traffic signals; use crosswalks when crossing the street. If a crosswalk is unavailable, be sure to find the most well-lighted spot on the road to cross and wait for a long enough gap in traffic to make it safely across the street. • Carry a flashlight or wear reflective clothing at night. • Use sidewalks whenever possible. • Do not walk under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drivers: • Look out for pedestrians at all times. When you are operating a vehicle, you have accepted a heightened responsibility for other people on the road. • Always yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. When approaching a crosswalk, reduce your speed and be prepared to stop. • Obey the posted speed limits. This is even more important in areas that have lower speed limits, such as school zones and neighborhood streets where pedestrians may appear suddenly. • Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Getting behind the wheel while impaired puts everyone in danger.

SAFETY TIPS
The Delaware Office of Highway Safety and AAA-Mid Atlantic offered tips on how to remain safe on the road and behind the driver’s wheel:
Pedestrians:
• Cross only in crosswalks or at intersections with traffic signals; use crosswalks when crossing the street. If a crosswalk is unavailable, be sure to find the most well-lighted spot on the road to cross and wait for a long enough gap in traffic to make it safely across the street.
• Carry a flashlight or wear reflective clothing at night.
• Use sidewalks whenever possible.
• Do not walk under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Drivers:
• Look out for pedestrians at all times. When you are operating a vehicle, you have accepted a heightened responsibility for other people on the road.
• Always yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. When approaching a crosswalk, reduce your speed and be prepared to stop.
• Obey the posted speed limits. This is even more important in areas that have lower speed limits, such as school zones and neighborhood streets where pedestrians may appear suddenly.
• Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Getting behind the wheel while impaired puts everyone in danger.

percent increase from 2014, according to a Governors Highway Safety Administration study.

Preliminary data from the study showed Delaware as third nationally with 1.27 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 population, trailing only Florida and Arizona in the first six months of 2015.

“DelDOT has had a special focus on pedestrian safety for over 10 years,” said Adam Weiser, manager of the Delaware Department of Transportation Safety Programs. “There is no good way to put a number on the time or resources expended since the issue is now ingrained in our agency culture.

“There are various theories as to why pedestrian fatalities are increasing,” he said, “most of which deal with the behavior of pedestrians rather than infrastructure issues.”

Lt. Hermance also pointed to pedestrian behavior, speculating intoxication and younger age groups often play into an incident.

“They’re trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible,” he said. “Some don’t think about it or look both ways before going… They believe they have the right of way and vehicles will stop wherever they are.”

Using it properly

At some point, DelDOT says, pedestrian safety revolves around people properly using the safety measures in place.

“Just as driver error is the most frequent cause of vehicular crashes, pedestrian behavior is the most frequent cause of these incidents,” Mr. Weiser said. “Engineers do their best to design and build facilities for pedestrians to walk and cross our roadways at appropriate locations. It is then up to individuals to use these facilities in the intended way.”

As the accidents mount up, DelDOT officials say it’s on a continuous quest of “reviewing and evaluating crash data for all crash types, including pedestrians,” Mr. Weiser said.

Last fall Gov. Jack Markell established the commonly called Pedestrian Council as a component in the effort to find solutions.

Trees, shrubbery and a fence have been installed along U.S. 13 near Delaware State University to help guide pedestrians down the sidewalk and not along the highway.

Trees, shrubbery and a fence have been installed along U.S. 13 near Delaware State University to help guide pedestrians down the sidewalk and not along the highway.

“We recognize the ongoing serious nature of the pedestrian safety challenge and sympathize with those who have lost loved ones, or been involved as a driver in a crash that was not their fault,” Mr. Weiser said. “We are actively working with the Pedestrian Council to see what more can be done to address this issue …”

According to Mr. Weiser, the biggest challenge in Delaware comes from “the higher speeds on suburban divided arterial roadways were pedestrians randomly cross these roads at various locations.”

When spotted and ticketed, Lt. Hermance said, pedestrians often sing a similar refrain.

“A lot of them will try to justify it and we know we’re going to get hit with ‘Why don’t you go deal with real crime?’ “ Lt. Hermance said. “Obviously, no one is happy with getting a ticket, but that’s how we enforce it.

“The goal is to change the behavior.”

In November and December last year, Dover Police officers worked 96 hours of overtime — at time-and-a half rates and funded by Office of Highway Safety grants — to specifically look for pedestrians making missteps. During the same time, officers also assisted patrol shifts when needed, as well.

The campaign began with 40 hours in November when 40 pedestrians were contacted and given literature and counseling on the value of walking in proper crosswalks and roadway areas.

During 56 hours in December, Lt. Hermance said Dover Police officers made 24 pedestrian contacts and 27 tickets were issued.

An enforcement push in February included 14 contacts and 13 citations during 56 hours, city police said.

“We are hoping that they don’t do it again,” Lt. Hermance said. “There’s an attempt to educate them that, ‘You will get hit if you continue doing this.’ “

Working together

A DelDOT official said the Traffic and Planning sections of the agency oversee pedestrian safety issues with contributions from groups such as Project Development, Development Coordination and Maintenance and Operations.

“This is because our goal is to design, build and maintain a system that is safe for all users,” Mr. Weiser said. Also, DelDOT strives to focus on engineering, education and enforcement to enhance the public safety regarding roadways.

“Working with our partners …,” Mr. Weiser said. “We have installed roadway lighting, signage improvements, additional sidewalk infrastructure, upgrades at existing signalized intersections, new signalized pedestrian crossings and innovative pedestrian crossing treatments.”

DelDOT’s work in Sussex County included a street-scape project in Bethany Beach, a Del. 26 third-lane project bringing new pedestrian facilities from Ocean View to Clarksville, Del. 1 pedestrian improvements in Rehoboth Beach and Lewes, and continuing bicycle and pathway projects throughout the state, officials said.

DelDOT has partnered with the Office of Highway Safety, Delaware State Police, metropolitan planning organizations, Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and others to address pedestrian safety issues.

Cutting-edge technologies and methods to increase safety have emerged, including barriers to keep pedestrians from crossing at certain locations, HAWK signals, countdown pedestrian signals and rectangular rapid flashing beacons with an irregular pattern, according to DelDOT. HAWK signals stop road traffic to allow pedestrians cross.

“If a crash occurs, we review the data to determine if the infrastructure performed as designed, or contributed in some way to the crash.”

In Dover, the Metropolitan Planning Organization said a pedestrian study in 2013 indicated and found “basically there’s a lot of adherence on U.S. 13 when it comes to following the rules of the road,” according to Executive Director Rich Vetter.

DSU’s solution

Noticing an uncomfortable amount of students crossing the highway at dangerous points on U.S. 13 several years ago, Delaware State University President Dr. Harry Williams began working with local legislators and DelDOT to find a solution.

DSU Governmental Relations Liaison Victor Santos said a 4-foot high fence and hedges along U.S. 13 from College Road at the south end to the north end of campus successfully have diverted students to the main campus entrance crosswalk.

The school was concerned that the growth of commercial business across the U.S. 13, along with the lure of the Dover Mall, was a student accident waiting to happen.

“I shudder to think what could have happened, especially since more traffic was turning into the complex with more businesses,” Mr. Santos said.

Mr. Santos said local legislators used $5,000 each from their Community Transportation Fund allocation, to build the fence. Also, Kent County Levy Court contributed $60,000 to build a walkable sidewalk between the school’s northern residential area near the former Sheraton Dover Hotel, now leased by the college, on U.S. 13 to the main campus.

“We’re happy with what we have now,” Mr. Santos said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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