Brattleboro Examines Pedestrian Deaths

05/29/12 7:34AM Angela Evancie
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VPR/Angela Evancie
Jerry Rounds directs schoolchildren across busy Western Avenue in Brattleboro.

Accidents involving pedestrians have spiked statewide over the past several months. Brattleboro has seen the worst of it, and now local officials are trying to identify the causes - and the solutions.

Something, or a combination of things, is endangering pedestrians. Since last fall, nine people have been hit and three have been killed.

"When he got hit he'd broken every major bone in his body. We found out later his fifth and sixth cervical was separated by an inch and a half," Michael Crosby said. His 82-year-old father Bernard was struck near his home on Western Avenue in late February. He died nine days later.

"He'd been crossing that street for over sixty years and it wasn't no issue. It's devastating for us," Crosby said.

Police haven't determined what caused the three fatalities, two of which occurred on Western Avenue, or Route 9.

Stuart McDermott of the West Brattleboro Association says a number of factors contribute to accidents.

"It might be with sidewalks, it might be with crosswalks."

He says there are issues with bike lanes, with visibility, and turning and definitely with speed.

Cell phone use is likely another issue. But these officials are focused on a few things they know they can fix.

"Okay, so this is one of the examples that we came up with," said  Planning Director and Traffic Safety Committee member Rod Francis as he points out weaknesses on Western Avenue. "You'll notice just beyond this parcel, the sidewalk ends."

Just before the Melrose Bridge, the sidewalk dies into a curb. So does the bike lane. Francis says this sort of thing typifies the main arteries leading in and out of town.

"For reasons of safety and feeling comfortable, most people will end up using a motor vehicle to commute in and out of downtown Brattleboro," Francis said.

To tackle these issues, town officials have literally taken to the streets. They recently partnered with AARP-VT to look into how they might improve pedestrian safety, especially in West Brattleboro. Soon, Brattleboro wants to hire a consultant for the first round of improvements.

"We did turn a crisis into an opportunity," said Steve Fortier, Executive Director of Meeting Waters YMCA and founder and coordinator of the Healthy Communities Coalition. He says it's not uncommon for towns to come up against planning and design that favor the automobile.

"Now our challenge nationwide and here locally is to undo some of that, and try to get back to a design that at least puts pedestrians and people that would like to commute on bicycle on an equal playing field," Fortier said.

Academy is also on Western Avenue. Jerry Rounds has been the school's crossing guard for two years.

"We need something to slow the traffic down," Rounds said.

Just last month, officials scattered traffic cones and neon signs in the median to call attention to the 75-foot-long crosswalk.

"For a little while when they put up some of the barriers and so on around here things did get a little bit better," Rounds said.

But eventually, Rounds says, traffic sped up again.

Last year, the Legislature passed the "Complete Streets" law, which ensures that the needs of all roadway users, including pedestrians and cyclists, are considered in transportation projects.

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