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Blaming Pedestrians While Absolving the Streets That Kill Them

11:27 AM CST on January 13, 2016

How many pedestrians have to get killed on Louisville's deadly Dixie Highway before the press and police stop blaming each individual who dies? Image: Google
How many pedestrians have to get killed on Louisville's Dixie Highway before the press and police stop blaming victims? Image: Google via Broken Sidewalk

It didn't take long for Louisville to notch its first pedestrian death of the year. Brian O’Neal, 46, was killed on the sixth day of 2016 while trying to cross Dixie Highway.

The fact that Dixie Highway was the site of this fatality shouldn't have surprised anyone who's paying attention to pedestrian safety in Louisville. The city's first pedestrian injury also happened on Dixie Highway. In fact, last year, a third of the city's 18 pedestrian deaths were on this one street, according to Branden Klayko at Network blog Broken Sidewalk. Dixie Highway is scheduled for safety improvements later this year, in part as a result of a federal initiative targeting cities like Louisville where pedestrians account for a large share of traffic fatalities.

After O'Neal's death, however, police and local reporters didn't address systemic problems with the design of Dixie Highway. Instead the authorities focused almost entirely on the individual, blaming him for his death. Klayko writes:

Various police spokespeople were quoted saying the victim was wearing dark clothing, which is not a crime nor should it be noted in a report such as this. After all, we would all take offense if a police officer noted that a rape victim were wearing a short skirt.

Police also indicated that the man was not crossing in a crosswalk. What the police did not mention nor did any local media report was that the intersection includes only one marked crosswalk with the other three crossings unmarked. In order to reach the marked crosswalk, the victim would have had to walk a great distance or else cross in another unmarked crosswalk. The design here sets up pedestrians to fail, and then be blamed when they’re killed.

There are two TARC bus stops in this vicinity, one sitting in front of a brand new McDonald’s on a slab of concrete disconnected without sidewalks, illustrating the challenges facing pedestrians in the area.

Moreover, the LMPD told local news that the collision was still under investigation, but were quick to add that no charges were expected to be filed against the motorist. Regardless of whether anyone is at fault or not, it’s inappropriate to claim an investigation is taking place and then come right out and say that it won’t mean anything anyway.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Wash Cycle reports that DC may be backpedaling on some of its increased fines for motorist misbehavior, rolled out recently as part of the city's Vision Zero initiative. And Seattle Transit Blog explains why free parking on minor holidays might not be a good idea.

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