A motorist with a suspended license and no insurance killed a 7-year-old girl walking home from a TARC bus stop with her family on Monday afternoon. According to police, 29-year-old Michael Penick left the scene, driving about 1,000 yards—about 7 city blocks or down the road and around the corner—down Buechel Bank Road from the collision. He was cited for his suspended license and lack of insurance and allowed to leave.
Seven-year-old Aiyana Osborne and her family were returning from Walmart where they had purchased dinner for the evening. “Little Mama wanted some tacos for dinner, so that’s what we got, that’s what we were going to have for dinner,” Osborne’s soon-to-be-stepmother told Wave3. “There was a car coming that was speeding, and I jerked her back a little bit, but I didn’t jerk her back far enough apparently.” Police claim speeding was not involved and the driver said the girl ran in front of his vehicle. The family is speaking out against the light charges.
Looking around Buechel Bank Road at Sanford Avenue where this tragedy took place, the urban design of the neighborhood highlights the dangers pedestrians face daily that led to these horror stories. The family exited a north-bound TARC bus at little more than a stick in the side of the road marking a bus stop before walking behind the bus to cross the two-lane street. The speed limit here is marked at 35 miles per hour, but with no controlled intersections (i.e. stop light or stop signs) between the highway-like Buechel Bypass and General Electric’s Appliance Park—a distance of some 4,750 feet—it’s likely that a vast number of motorists speed through the residential corridor.
The entire length of Buechel Bank Road has only one crosswalk (in front of St. Bartholomew Elementary School) even though the street crosses several major arteries. A narrow sidewalk exists on one side of the street, but extremely wide turning radii at intersections with other residential streets allow drivers to speed through faster than is safe for pedestrians.
Above, you can see a bus shelter placed at the entrance to an apartment complex but the sidewalk ends before reaching Buechel Bank Road. To catch a bus traveling north, you would have to cross the street and tread through a dozen feet of grass to reach the next sidewalk.
We need to recognize that uncontrolled straight-away speedways like Buechel Bank Road promote speeding and unsafe conditions for pedestrians. Many of us have driven on roads like this and know just how easy it is to succumb to the monotony of the straight road and not notice the speedometer climbing.
We could take a few simple steps to improve safety on streets like this including installing additional sidewalks—with noticeable crosswalks—and traffic calming designs like small roundabouts, chicanes, or stop signs that make it difficult for motorists to speed through. In a residential setting like this, it would also be useful to lower the speed limit to 30mph from 35 mph. (We all know how easily a speed limit of 35 mutates into 39 or 40.) These design changes could help to save lives.
Monday’s incident is similar to another collision in 2009 killing 2-year-old Napoleon Gunn as he and his family tried to cross Rangeland Road at Poplar Level Road also after getting off a TARC bus. “There’s clearly not a sidewalk where my nephew was killed and it’s sad that they would even think to let you off there. I wouldn’t let somebody I gave a ride to off where I felt they weren’t protected and right there, they were not protected,” Allyson Purcell told WHAS 11. We need to begin improving our suburban pedestrian environments immediately, perhaps beginning with areas near TARC stops.