Pedestrians say crossing Laney-Walker can be risky

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Georgia Health Sciences University student Jose Navarro watched in horror as the blue Chevy Silverado slammed on its brakes and nearly hit him and a patient in a crosswalk on Laney-Walker Boulevard. Other traffic had stopped but the driver apparently didn't see them until the last moment, something the third-year College of Dental Medicine student had trouble understanding.

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Dental student Jose Navarro says near-misses are common when trying to cross Laney-Walker Boulevard at 15th Street.    Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Dental student Jose Navarro says near-misses are common when trying to cross Laney-Walker Boulevard at 15th Street.

"There are flashing lights everywhere and there are stop signs everywhere," said Navarro, 24. "And there's plenty of people walking, it wasn't just me and that guy. How could this guy see all the signs and not stop?"

Students and staff say these kinds of near-misses are common on Laney-Walker and sometimes it is worse, as a Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics worker found out March 10 when he was struck by a pickup in a crosswalk.

University President Ricardo Azziz said that accident bolstered his argument for closing the stretch of Laney-Walker between 15th Street and R.A. Dent Boulevard that bisects his campus and forces students and staff to sometimes cross it several times a day. Some Augusta commissioners, however, say they are not yet convinced closure is necessary and other avenues should be explored to allow vehicles to keep using the street.

The March accident, however, was not an isolated one.

A check of records kept by Augusta Traffic Engineering found that eight people have been hit in that stretch of Laney-Walker since 1995, most of them since 2004, and all of the pedestrians were in a crosswalk at the time.

The number of near-accidents several years ago got the attention of Daniel W. Rahn, MCG's president at the time, said Chief Bill McBride, the director of public safety for GHSU.

"As those incidents occurred, the close calls and the near misses, Dr. Rahn was paying attention," McBride said. "He's sitting up there on the third floor of the (administration) building (on Laney-Walker) and he can hear sometimes the tires squealing and he's concerned. So we started pushing traffic interdiction then."

That came to a head in 2008 when graduate student Dr. Ji Cheng was hit and killed by a city bus at Laney-Walker and 15th Street. There have been nine other nonfatal pedestrian accidents in that same intersection since 1994, most of them since 2004. After the 2008 accident, GHSU police got permission and training to begin using radar and they are now out in force, particularly during rush times when people tend to speed, McBride said. That's also when traffic is the highest.

A Dec. 1 count by Traffic Engineering found 376 cars an hour pass into that stretch of Laney-Walker from 15th Street and 315 an hour come from R.A. Dent during morning rush, numbers that are essentially reversed during prime time afternoon rush. Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell has said he hopes to make a more complete traffic count, including those that are going to MCG and those that are just passing through, in addition to the impact of closure on nearby roads, by early May.

Until that report is ready, the Augusta Commission's Engineering Services Committee, where the closure request landed, won't be holding any more public hearings, chairman Alvin Mason said. He said he wanted to explore all options but sounded skeptical about the need for closure.

"I understand Dr. Azziz's focus and I don't blame him for trying to do what is best for Georgia Health Sciences University," Mason said. "My focus as a commissioner though is I have to do what is best for the citizens of Augusta. Because alleviating the problem for him could create a problem for the taxpaying citizens" if the city has to widen other streets, for instance, to accommodate increased traffic.

Before Azziz's arrival, McBride had proposed creating raised crosswalks of six inches or so that would become like long speed bumps. That should still happen, Azziz said.

"We are looking at many options," he said. "And in fact, regardless of whether a part of Laney-Walker is created as a pedestrian area in the center of campus or not, certainly the crosswalk areas throughout campus and around our new dental school should be raised because that actually increases the security of our individuals."

The university was already exploring a plan to take Laney-Walker from four lanes to two lanes in that section prior to Azziz's arrival. But closure to create a pedestrian mall in that section still seems like the best idea, he said, particularly in light of the history of that section and the fact that the new building for the College of Dental Medicine will be across Laney-Walker from the old building that is still going to be used daily.

"Waiting for many more people to get hit, waiting for the inevitable increase in accidents that will happen when students begin to cross the street between the new dental school and their old lecture facilities is simply, I think, irresponsible, from ourselves and from the community leadership," Azziz said.

But Mason argues that if students at two high schools on Laney-Walker a block away have to cross it every day, why is it wrong to ask those at GHSU to continue doing it?

"If we're requiring high-schoolers to understand how to walk across the street, to me we certainly should be looking at all avenues to ensure that college students, adults, understand how to walk across the street," he said.

After a couple of close calls, Navarro does understand how to cross that section of Laney-Walker and the surrounding streets. He follows one hard and fast rule.

"As a pedestrian what you do is you make eye contact (with the driver)," he said. "You don't walk across the street unless you've made eye contact. The lights don't mean anything anymore."

Narrowing still on table

Before any talk of closing the section of Laney-Walker Boulevard that runs through Georgia Health Sciences University to create a pedestrian mall, the university was looking to convert the street from four lanes to two lanes, officials said. And that proposal is still being studied, University President Ricardo Azziz said. In fact, the university's ideal proposal would have the road narrowed to two lanes heading into campus and then a pedestrian mall in the center that would close the road to all pass-through traffic except emergency vehicles.

"We still think closure is the best option," Azziz said.

Augusta Commissioner Matt Aitken, whose district includes that section of Laney-Walker, said he would like to see traffic still able to move through.

"It's not a win-win to close it down versus narrow it down to two lanes," he said. The city should be seeking to balance the interests at play here, Aitken said.

"We definitely want to see the campus thrive," he said. "But we've also got to make sure that our traffic is moving in our city as well and that it doesn't cut the lifelines off of some other parts of the area."

-- Tom Corwin, staff writer

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only4years
0
Points
only4years 04/02/11 - 11:56 pm
0
0
Mason is doing whats best for

Mason is doing whats best for the "taxpayers". Apparently he thinks that the only taxpayers are the ones driving. Many tax payers are students, faculty, and patients. Lets try to educate Augusta drivers about how to stop for pedestrian cross walks. Someone should also educate Alvin on how to properly walk across the street, because it is apparent that he doesn't know how. When every victim was struck while walking in the crosswalk, it should be obvious that they were walking across the street correctly. He should be required to give the eulogy of the next person that dies in that cross walk because someone can't follow a STATE law or be forced to have a face to face meeting with the family of the next person who is injured explaining why he thought their family member wasn't important enough to protect. I personally have almost been hit by vehicles twice while crossing Laney Walker. His response is irresponsible, flippant, and ignorant. I would also ask Alvin why he thinks it's appropriate to force highschool students to cross a dangerous street. Shouldn't something also be done to protect them?

mike71345
75
Points
mike71345 04/03/11 - 01:42 am
0
0
I did a quick check of the

I did a quick check of the Augusta/Richmond County website looking for pedestrian accident figures in the county. I found that in the period 1998-2005, there were 808 pedestrian accidents (27 fatal) and 385 bicycle accidents (4 fatal). That's 1193 accidents in that random eight-year period.
"A check of records kept by Augusta Traffic Engineering found that eight people have been hit in that stretch of Laney-Walker since 1995"
I keep wondering why every old lady trying to cross Laney-Walker has been front-page news lately. Wouldn't this article be more appropriate on the editorial page?

mike71345
75
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mike71345 04/03/11 - 02:12 am
0
0
"Woodlawn Methodist and Reid

"Woodlawn Methodist and Reid Presbyterian to Merge Day Cares, Propose Closing Section of Walton Way."
What a firestorm that headline would ignite.

boilers
0
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boilers 04/03/11 - 07:43 am
0
0
Interestingly enough, a

Interestingly enough, a couple of weeks ago I was driving fairly slowly down the road during sunrise. For going too slow at the crosswalks checking for pedestrians a pickup truck laid on his horn and blew past me. There is little respect for the pedestrians (including myself when I cross). I feel getting it down to 2 lanes is a good idea. Currently if you have a car stopped in the first lane it is unknown if the car in the 2nd lane will stop.

Old Timmer
260
Points
Old Timmer 04/03/11 - 08:17 am
0
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SAFETY? MCG has gone from a

SAFETY? MCG has gone from a President that could not make a decision to one that will not make a good one. A very few incidents over 20 years. What about the staff that keeps the place running with no direction, low morale, no pay increases (some for 4-5 years) unless you are a VP, and general fear as to what he will come up with next. Their "safety" includes the groceries and utility bills. BUT millions for signs. It is obvious that no one will or can tell this man that "he has no clothes."

Enyaw
13
Points
Enyaw 04/03/11 - 10:37 am
0
0
I invite you to take another

I invite you to take another look at the entire stretch of Laney Walker and not just the MCG section. Funny how he is only concerned with the safety of a select few. There are no yellow signs posted near the high school nor is there one any where beyond the tracks in the middle of the road. Even with the crossing guards those students and teachers are at risk every day. University President Ricardo Azziz, shame on you for being so narrow minded. Sad enough they allowed you to change the name. We are MCG! Don't forget that.

Pat D
2
Points
Pat D 04/03/11 - 10:55 am
0
0
A more appropriate statistic

A more appropriate statistic would be;

"How many people who were crossing the street obeying all of the traffic laws (red lights, signs, and other devices) and were killed or injured and how many who were not killed or injured campared to how many were not obeying etc., and were killed or injured and how many were not."

Statistics will not lie if the data gathering and calculation is complete.

hhwilli
0
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hhwilli 04/03/11 - 12:30 pm
0
0
Has anyone considered or

Has anyone considered or suggested push button activated stop lights at one or more of the existing crosswalks? Also, users should not ASSUME that traffic will stop if they walk into a designated crosswalk (even one with boldly worded signs to stop for pedestrians). Yes, if you get hit while crossing, you would have been in the right; but, without exercising good judgment, you may just be DEAD RIGHT!!

floridasun
310
Points
floridasun 04/03/11 - 12:37 pm
0
0
Close the section of Laney

Close the section of Laney Walker Blvd passing through the GHSU campus.
Dr Azziz is correct.

dani
12
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dani 04/03/11 - 12:53 pm
0
0
A big hello to Jose. A good

A big hello to Jose. A good dentist and a very nice person. If more immigrants were of his calibre it would solve many of our problems.

dani
12
Points
dani 04/03/11 - 12:57 pm
0
0
I would think that handing

I would think that handing out a bunch of tickets would cause motorists to stop when ordered to do so by state law. That is assuming they can read the signs, and if they can't, they should not be driving at all.

Common.sense
465
Points
Common.sense 04/03/11 - 01:20 pm
0
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I drive down 15th street

I drive down 15th street whenever I goto work. Whenever pedestrians are crossing at the intersection of 15th St and Laney Walker Blvd all of the traffic signals should be red. It will be an inconvienence to people travelling by vehicles, but I have often seen people trying to turn at this intersection when they have the green light and pedestrians also have the green walk sign. Or they could build pedestrian bridges?

Another thing they need to address near MCG is the amount of people jaywalking only a couple of car lengths from the crosswalks. If drivers have to pay attention to the jaywalker to make sure they won't hit them it can take their attention off of what is ahead of them.

Common.sense
465
Points
Common.sense 04/03/11 - 01:36 pm
0
0
To those who also travel this

To those who also travel this direction. If you ever see a hit and run and call it in to the RCSO, make sure you follow it up a few days later. I witnessed one and called it in. With all of the vehicle information, direction of travel and what happened. I called them to see if the pedestrian was ok and if they caught the person who ran. Patrol cars did not get the car and the investigators were never given the information that I gave over the phone. I had to tell them around the time of day I called so they could pull the recording of my call. I guess they eventually found the driver because I got a call from their laywer asking me to be a witness on their behalf. After I informed the lawyer that I was the one who called it in I never received another call about it.

jtra1n
0
Points
jtra1n 04/03/11 - 03:07 pm
0
0
@ anyone who gave an

@ anyone who gave an alternative to road closure. they dont want to discuss it because it would be too sensible, inexpensive and pragmatic. Closing it off and making the city pay for the problems is their best idea thus far...Also risky: crossing any busy two way traffic street...ever. Thank you Augusta Chronicle for the in depth reporting! jk If Azziz's idea was the best and made so much sense it would have been made a reality already. The man will not take "This is not a good idea" for an answer. It cost 2 million dollars to change the name to GHSU from MCG that was a fine name. Short, simple, easy to remember with a lot of history. If he really cared about safety he could have used that to build any number of solutions to the problem but instead we're still talking about this. Obviously, the road is important enough to be that busy for a reason so rather than make the city pay to reroute thousands of cars a day, use that educated, well-paid thinker of yours to reroute some pedestrians, Azziz.

Sweet son
10739
Points
Sweet son 04/03/11 - 03:22 pm
0
0
Sounds like Dr Azzuz and

Sounds like Dr Azzuz and Police General McNugget are just using a smoke screen of stats to sneak up on their objective! CLOSE THE 1400 BLOCK OF LANEYWALKER. For the number of cars traveling along this stretch of road versus the crossing pedestrians, the accident stats do not seem to justify closing of the road. In other words; KEEP YOUR HEAD UP AND YOUR EYES OPEN WHEN YOU CROSS THE ROAD! Didn't we teach our children to "look both ways before they crossed the road".

And also, how dumb is it to build a gazillion dollar new dental school without lecture facilities. I realize clinical experience is part of the education process but damn not including classrooms.

Riverman1
86973
Points
Riverman1 04/03/11 - 03:24 pm
0
0
Let's all be honest here.

Let's all be honest here. Closing Laney Walker is not simply about making crossing that road safter. The closure will help improve the campus aesthetics and safety in general by limiting access to the campus. That's what Dr. Azziz is after.

Safety/aesthetics of the campus is one of the major categories in medical school evaluations. We have a billion dollar institution that provides all kinds of jobs for over a thousand people. Let's do our part to make it better.

Frank I
1192
Points
Frank I 04/03/11 - 03:29 pm
0
0
You know, it's not often I

You know, it's not often I agree with the words of Mr. Mason but he's got a good point... 1 block from where Dr. Azziz wants to close off Laney-Walker for the safety of his students and staff, all of which are adults and many of whom are becoming doctors, lie two high schools (Lucy C. Laney High School and Davidson Fine Arts High School). These children cross Laney-Walker Blvd. on a daily basis, why can't the adults?

dani
12
Points
dani 04/03/11 - 04:23 pm
0
0
This is a strange

This is a strange conversation. I shop occasionally at Kroger across from the mall and I have never seen a driver fail to stop at a pedestrian crossing for shoppers who are going in or out of the store.
If a steady stream of motorists can stop for drivers in a shopping center surely they can stop in a hospital and school zone.

ClaraBell
8
Points
ClaraBell 04/03/11 - 07:36 pm
0
0
I would like to believe that

I would like to believe that Dr. Azziz's concern was about the students' safety or even about making the MCG campus more pleasing for them. But I feel that this issue is just another hook for Dr. Azziz getting his mug and moniker in the paper day after day after day.

museofsatie
586
Points
museofsatie 04/03/11 - 10:02 pm
0
0
I spent a couple of months

I spent a couple of months visiting my father (pretty much every day) while he was being treated at MCG. I saw so many near-misses during that time. Most drivers pay attention, but there are still some (too many) who are just oblivious or are in too much of a hurry to follow the law and stop for the pedestrians in the crosswalk. As a side note, I saw this same type of problem (a lot) on Harper St., as well.

But regardless of that, Laney Walker doesn't need to be closed down. And if it is closed down, Dr. Azziz needs to just be honest and say that it's LARGELY for campus beautification.

only4years
0
Points
only4years 04/03/11 - 11:02 pm
0
0
Before I cross I pick up a

Before I cross I pick up a handful of rocks for those near misses

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
Points
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 04/03/11 - 11:53 pm
0
0
Common.sense wrote; "To those

Common.sense wrote; "To those who also travel this direction. If you ever see a hit and run and call it in to the RCSO, make sure you follow it up a few days later. I witnessed one and called it in. With all of the vehicle information, direction of travel and what happened. I called them to see if the pedestrian was ok and if they caught the person who ran. Patrol cars did not get the car and the investigators were never given the information that I gave over the phone. I had to tell them around the time of day I called so they could pull the recording of my call. I guess they eventually found the driver because I got a call from their laywer asking me to be a witness on their behalf. After I informed the lawyer that I was the one who called it in I never received another call about it."

Every Medical professional hit was in the crosswalk and it was a crime to hit them. Guess if you don't like the way folks drive on Laney Walker, stay off the sidewalks... Ha haha

Folks here do realize people are being killed & crippled by inattentive drivers on Laney Walker & 15th there, right?

They have every right to defend themselves by putting some greenspace there.

DoggieMom
244
Points
DoggieMom 04/04/11 - 12:19 am
0
0
The intersection in question

The intersection in question is flawed in design. The lights give pedestrians the "green" to cross at the same time they give the green light to cars from Laney Walker to turn left on 15th Street.
The only way to fix this flaw, is to have ALL cars stopped, and all pedestrians cross all 4 areas at once. Since there is "no turn on Red" from Laney Walker to 15th Street, there is not a safe time to cross 15th street. And if a driver hits a pedestrian in the 15th street crosswalk, they are turning the ONLY time they are allowed to turn....when the light is green. This is the most poorly designed intersection in Augusta, and no one can seem to see the flaws, only to close Laney Walker. Unfortunately, people will STILL need to cross 15th Street, and the best way to fix this is to build a bridge for pedestrians, however, how to make it "handicapped accessible" is a huge issue.
If Dr. Azziz truly cares about the MCG community, he'll go and watch this intersection from 4 to 5 PM every afternoon. The interesection is flawed, and the lights only let the cars turn when the crosswalk lights are also lit. This is the fault of poor traffic planners, not the drivers, nor the pedestrians. They are only following the lights.

wwud
0
Points
wwud 04/04/11 - 08:29 am
0
0
Crossing any street can be

Crossing any street can be risky not just Laney Walker and 15th street.
come on now we have heard of one bad incident in that area. Why is it necessary that the street need to be close. I worked at MCG for almost
20 years and crossed that same street with no problem, we pedestrians
need to take precaution crossing Laney Walker and 15th street as well as any street. There shouldbe a walk and don't walk signal placed at the crossing. But leave the street open to traffic.

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 04/04/11 - 11:11 am
0
0
Close the road and help one

Close the road and help one of our largest employers have a better place to create more jobs for our community.

I cannot understand how folks can acyt like MCG is not a great thing and that we should not support it in any way we can.

Close the road and move on to someting more important, like suing the city for making changes.

Brad

ClaraBell
8
Points
ClaraBell 04/04/11 - 04:48 pm
0
0
Brad Owens, not understanding

Brad Owens, not understanding your comment. Are you suggesting that MCG sue the city of Augusta to pay for the LW changes between 13 and 15?

Riverman1
86973
Points
Riverman1 04/04/11 - 04:56 pm
0
0
ClaraBell, Brad is referring

ClaraBell, Brad is referring to the suit by the black ministers against the plan to give the administrator more power.

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