To the Editor:
The Aug. 25 Star-Herald featured a story on 10-year-old Abby Whitford, who died after being hit by a driver in a crosswalk in Papillion. An Aug. 22 Omaha World-Herald article shed more light on the circumstances of this tragedy.
According to the Papillion police chief, Abby and her younger brother needed to cross four lanes of traffic in downtown Papillion. A vehicle stopped, and the children crossed the first two lanes safely. The truck in the third lane stopped for them. But the driver of the vehicle in the fourth lane did not stop – with terrible consequences for the Whitford family, the driver, the witnesses, and the Papillion community.
Safety advocates refer to pedestrian crossings of multiple traffic lanes in each direction as “double jeopardy.” The person trying to cross the street must rely on more drivers to pay attention and come to a stop. The presence of large vehicles, like commercial trucks, pickups, or SUVs increases the danger, as many of these vehicles are so tall they obscure the view someone crossing the street.
In April, a student crossing 27th Street in Scottsbluff was injured in a double jeopardy situation – one vehicle stopped but a second vehicle traveling in the same direction did not.
I fear that a similar situation may occur in other areas of our community, such as on 20th Street in Scottsbluff between Broadway and 5th Avenue where I have seen many Bluffs Middle School students crossing. While 20th Street is only two lanes, state law and local ordinance permit drivers to pass on the right a vehicle stopped to make a left turn, effectively creating four lanes of traffic. I fear that one day, tragedy will occur when a driver passes on the right because they think the stopped driver is turning when they are in fact yielding to pedestrians.
Drivers can help protect pedestrians by slowing down and using caution when a nearby vehicle is slowing or stopping.
Physical safety measures like protected curb extensions, lane reductions and pedestrian refuges can reduce the chance of driver error leading to pedestrian injury or death. I’m encouraged to know that the City of Scottsbluff and Scottsbluff Public School District are working with engineers to plan for increased pedestrian safety around our schools.
Bike Walk Nebraska board chair, Tri-City Active Living Advisory Committee member