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<br />Memphis walkers get a heads-up on danger

Walkers in Memphis must sometimes stare down danger as they walk the dog or exercise, according to a new study that found the city ranks seventh on the list of the 54 most dangerous towns for pedestrians. Special to the Tri-State Defender

Walkers in Memphis must sometimes stare down danger as they walk the dog, exercise or head for work, according to a new study that found the city ranks seventh on the list of the 54 most dangerous towns for pedestrians.

Children, older adults and minorities represent a disproportionate number of those being killed, according to the new report from Transportation for America, which lobbies to get  transportation resources shifted to other forms of travel besides vehicles.

“Our federal tax dollars actually go to build these streets that are designed to be perilous to children, older adults and everyone else. And yet, right now, some in Congress are considering the total elimination of funding for projects to make it safer to walk and bicycle,” the organization said in its 2011 report, “Dangerous by Design.”

Within hours of the report’s release, Transportation by America announced that Sen., Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and 11 co-sponsors had formally introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2011, which mirrors its House counterpart – sponsored by Republican Steve LaTourette and Democrat Doris Matsui – in calling for streets that are safe and accessible for all users, whether on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike or using public transit.

In the last decade, more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed in the United States, the report found. That’s a human loss equivalent to the crash of a jumbo jet every single month. From 2000 to 2009, 266,806 pedestrians were killed in Tennessee, 266 of those in Memphis.

Emily Trenholm, executive director of the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis, said efforts are underway to address these dangers.

 “This has long been a concern for The Community Development Council of Greater Memphis,” Trenholm said in written remarks. “In 2006 we created Livable Memphis to help educate citizens and empower neighborhoods. Much of this has emphasized pedestrian infrastructure investment, walkable neighborhoods and accessibility issues.”

Linda S. Wallace, a writer, moved to Memphis last year. A frequent contributor to the Tri-State Defender, Wallace said she suffered a painful injury while walking her dog in Central Gardens last week.

“There was a big chunk of concrete missing from the sidewalk,” said Wallace, who walks daily. “As my foot became trapped, I lost my balance and hit the ground. I’ve walked regularly in Houston, Philadelphia and now Memphis. This is the first time I’ve ever fallen as an adult. My leg, elbow and hands were badly scraped and the pain was just awful. I lost time at work.”

Too many sidewalks are crumbling, obstructed and impassable, Wallace said, forcing dog walkers, pedestrians and joggers and children to step into the street to avoid the broken concrete, glass discards and other hazards.  

“The sidewalk conditions are so deteriorated in some spots my dog simply refuses to go down certain streets. When the dogs can sense the danger, you know you’ve got a problem,” she said.

Sidewalk repair in Memphis, in the vast majority of cases, is the responsibility of the home or property owner. In instances where a pipe bursts, however, the city may repair the damage.

Nationally speaking, the majority of these pedestrian deaths occurred along the arterial roadways that are dangerous by design – streets engineered for speeding traffic with little or no provision for people on foot, in wheelchairs or on bicycles, Transportation for America said.

This year’s edition of Transportation for America’s national report added a new visual. The group gathered pedestrian fatalities from 2001 to 2009 (all but about 5 percent) and plotted them on an interactive map, allowing visitors to the website to take a look at the streets and roads near them to see how safe or unsafe they may be.

The map is available at http://t4america.org/resources/dangerousbydesign2011/map/.

The City of Memphis has departments that address pedestrian and motorist concerns. Among them:

• Dangerous signs or awning: Code Enforcement, 379-4200.

• Damaged trash container: 458-6166.

• Street light out: MLGW, 320-1497.

• Dead tree, broken limbs, weeds, trash: Grounds Maintenance, 576-4746.

• Damaged sidewalks: Sidewalk Inspector, 357-0100.

• Traffic / crosswalk light out: Signal Maintenance, 528-2844.

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