Hit and Run Raises Pedestrian Safety Questions

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A 70-year-old Moab man was hit by a car while walking in the crosswalk at 200 South and Main Street after dark Wednesday, Oct. 10.

The City of Moab has been trying to work with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to make the intersection safer for pedestrians long before the accident occurred last week.

Cricket Green was at The Moab Diner last Wednesday. She walked outside when she heard the impact.

“I heard it and knew what it was. I knew somebody got hit,” she said.

She and a couple ran to the man who was lying in the street in the northbound lanes of traffic.

The signal lights at 300 South were red and traffic was stopped. But when the lights turned green Green was scared. It was dark and cars were driving northbound toward them. She and the other woman ran into the intersection waving their arms and screaming for the cars to stop.

“The whole time I was out there I was thinking ‘I’m going to get hit,’” Green said. “I just needed to stop traffic.”

The cars stopped about fifteen feet from where the man was lying on the street. One of the drivers was Moab Police Officer Josh Althoff. He directed traffic and Green stayed with the man on the ground until an ambulance could arrive.

“He was spitting out blood,” Green said. “He was pointing to his arm and leg. He was hurt.”

The City of Moab is well aware that the intersection of 200 South and Main Street is a tricky one. The issue, though, is that Main Street is also Highway 191 and is managed by the UDOT. Any changes at the intersection must be approved and done by UDOT.

“We have made contact with UDOT repeatedly over the last decade for safety measures there,” said Moab City Manager Donna Metzler. “We’ve asked for additional lighting and flags. These conversations were happening before the accident.”

The safety of the intersection was addressed in the Oct. 9 Moab City Council meeting, less than 24 hours before the man was hit, said Moab City Police Chief Mike Navarre.

“Mayor Dave brought it up,” Navarre said. “The discussion was about Main Street crosswalks. The engineer said she was working with UDOT about that crosswalk.”

The Moab City offices were housed off of 200 South until 2005. Navarre said that he and his officers had problems at the intersection that has no signal, due to heavy traffic. Main Street has an average of more than 14,695 cars each day, according to UDOT statistics. That figures combines both tourist and non-tourist seasons and does not show peak traffic numbers.

“You have to turn right,” Navarre said. “There is no way to turn left.”

However, 200 South dead ends one block East and two blocks West.

UDOT put a counter to check traffic, but no signal was put in place, Navarre said. “They said no because it wasn’t a four-way follow-through intersection.”

Despite the two dead-ends, the intersection is a busy one.

“When you start mapping out that four-way you have some major things there,” Navarre said.

There are three restaurants on the corners: The Moab Diner, Arches Pancake Haus and Fiesta Mexicana. Moab Adventure Center sits on the fourth corner. To the east is the Virginian Inn. To the west are two additional hotels: Gonzo Inn and Ramada Inn. Then there is the state liquor store, the USU-Moab campus, a bike shop, a lumberyard, an auto parts store and the business complex where Moab City Hall was once housed.

“It’s busy,” Navarre said.

An additional issue is the lighting at the intersection. White pointed out that there is a streetlight at each corner of the intersection, except for the Northeast corner where The Moab Diner sits. White said that she initially couldn’t see the man in the road because of the darkness.

“It is dark and shadowy at night,” Navarre said. “It is hard to see.”

Joe Kingsley knows there is a problem for pedestrians where there are no signal lights.

A few months ago he saw a man in a wheelchair try to cross Main Street in the crosswalk near City Market.

“No one was stopping. He was trying to get to City Market. He was scared to death,” Kingsley said. “I was in my pickup. I made a quick left turn into the oncoming traffic and threatened people to hit me to I could protect him and let him get across the crosswalk,” Kingsley said.

He spoke with fellow board members from the Grand/San Juan Association of Realtors. One suggested crossing flags, which are used in Salt Lake City. Pedestrians hold the flag while crossing the street to call more attention from drivers to slow down and stop. The association ordered 300 flags to put at intersections on Main and Center streets.

When he contacted UDOT, Kingsley said he was told they could not put the flags at intersections on Main Street. After pushing, he was told that the state attorney general’s office would create a form that would require the approval of the Moab City Council.

“The city endorses this and says we can do it. We are making headway now,” Kingsley said. “I’m pleased with the support of Mike Navarre and Donna Metzler. Hopefully by Christmas the flags will be up.”

Navarre said the flags would be an improvement, but that he is concerned about the false sense of security that the flags may bring. He wants more done to protect pedestrians.

“I want more devices to go along with it,” Navarre said. “I like the LED lighted crossing stripes on the pavement. And an overhead signage that is attached to a button a person can press that has a sign that says, ‘Pedestrian in crossing.’”

Kevin Kitchen, UDOT public information officer, said that UDOT is aware of public concerns regarding pedestrians at the intersection.

“We are providing the city with temporary signs to raise awareness,” he said. “We will work with the city on potential long-term solutions. Our traffic and safety folk have been in contact with the city manager at least since September.”

Click here to read more from the Moab Sun Times

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