A recent story was published regarding an alarming report that ranks the Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin area as one of the deadliest metropolitan regions for pedestrians in the country. The story aptly pointed out that this statistic is indicative of a national trend of increased pedestrian deaths (up 35 percent over the past decade), even while traffic fatalities overall have continued to decrease nationwide.
The report also states that South Carolina is one of the top 10 most dangerous states for pedestrians. The Palmetto Cycling Coalition has reported that, from 2009 to 2017, there were 13,719 crashes involving bicycles and pedestrians in the state, including 1,258 fatalities, a large percentage of which were the result of negligence on the part of drivers, such as failing to yield the right of way or distracted driving.
I wanted to say at the outset that I am not in the business of demonizing drivers. I am one. If you live almost anywhere outside of major metropolitan areas in the United States, you probably rely on motor vehicles for transportation. The point is not that we need fewer vehicles; we need safer drivers. (Interestingly, the report points out that the increased risk in incidence across the country is not attributable to having more drivers, but rather less safe infrastructure and laws to protect vulnerable road users.)
As Greenville continues to grow in population and seeks to compete with other cities in the region for business, tourism, and better quality of life for its existing residents, this is an issue that we must address. The steady increase in popularity of recreational cycling in the Upstate is a huge factor here, as is the explosion of commuting by bike or foot with the continued expansion of pedestrian- and bike-friendly infrastructure throughout the city and county. There is much to be hopeful about, but also much work to be done.
Three bills currently filed with the state Legislature would help curb this trend of pedestrian deaths, for Greenville, and for the rest of the state. HB3172, which would require motorists to stop for pedestrians already lawfully in the middle of a marked, unsignalized crosswalk (currently, they are only required to yield), has been referred to the House Education and Public Works Committee.
Another measure, HB3355, which would ban motorists from holding a cell phone while driving, was passed out of subcommittee (in the same Committee) on Jan. 29. South Carolina already bans texting while driving, but the fine is minimal and is rarely enforced.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2016, approximately 9 percent of traffic fatalities, or 3,450 total, occurred in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, and 562 of those were non-occupants of a motor vehicle, i.e., pedestrians, bicyclists, or others. And according to the University of Utah Applied Cognition Laboratory, the odds of having a collision while texting are eight times higher than driving while not distracted. But simply talking on a cell phone makes the driver four times more likely to crash, which is on par with the risk of those driving while intoxicated.
Finally, HB3656 would require the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOTC) to implement a “complete streets” policy, in order to fulfill its existing obligation to secure the safety of people walking and cycling on state owned roads and streets. Approximately 95 percent of South Carolina’s pedestrian fatalities are on SCDOT-owned roadways.
A number of state lawmakers representing Greenville County are co-sponsors of these measures, but others are expected to oppose them. The Greenville Spinners Bicycle Club encourages citizens to contact their state lawmakers and voice their support of these bills that will make the Upstate safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and a better place to live for everyone.
Jeremy Williams is advocacy chair of the Greenville Spinners board of directors.