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Pedestrian fatalities rare in Hall despite national increase
Higher gas prices may be cause of death increase in nation
Pedestrians cross Washington Street in downtown Gainesville on Wednesday afternoon. New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show pedestrian fatalities rose 4.2 percent in 2010 over the previous year.

It may not be the busiest city, but Gainesville has its fair share of pedestrian travel.

But for the past five years there hasn't been a single pedestrian fatality in the city.

Pedestrian crosswalks at most busy intersections throughout the city could be a factor in that statistic, said Kevin Holbrook, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department.

"The city has incorporated those over the years through redevelopment projects and programs," he said. "Those typically address concerns such as pedestrian and vehicle fatalities because it's a red light of sorts to both pedestrians and drivers."

Crosswalks and pedestrian signals are placed at most intersections in the downtown area, as well as many major intersections throughout the city.

"We try to be proactive and try to be aware of the pedestrian traffic movements and place crosswalks and signs ... where they're most needed," said David Dockery, the city's public works director.

The city also has a sidewalk capital improvements plan that identifies opportunities to expand sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks.

In the rest of Hall County, though, two pedestrians were killed last year when they were struck by vehicles. That marked the first year a pedestrian was killed since 2008 when there were also two recorded fatalities. A total of five pedestrians have been killed since 2007.

The most recent of those fatalities was in October when 33-year-old Michael Patrick Cooley was hit by a car while crossing Dawsonville Highway in the dark of the night.

The other 2011 incident occurred on East Hall Road when a teenage driver attempted to avoid 69-year-old Syble Grindle but still struck the woman. The driver, Edgar-Diaz Martinez, then went careening out of control into a steep ravine.

Neither driver in the 2011 incidents was charged.

Hall County Public Works Director Ken Rearden said the county strategically places crosswalks and signals based on traffic studies.

A large focus of pedestrian traffic is near county schools, Rearden said.

"We have our own traffic department within public works and that's what they do every day is make sure roads are safe in Hall County," he said.

Despite the local statistics, data recently released from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that pedestrian fatalities rose 4.2 percent nationally in 2010 over the previous year. Statistics show pedestrians injured in vehicle wrecks rose 19 percent to 70,000.

But that data comes at a time when road fatalities in most categories have dropped off in recent years. Before the increase, pedestrian deaths declined for four straight years.

Perhaps the increase is related to high gas prices that have led many people to abandon their vehicles and find use of public transportation, as well as walking to their destinations.

"There are more and more people who look to alternative needs for transportation and that includes walking," said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

"In addition, people enjoy walking for their health. You don't have to go far in Gainesville and Hall County to see people on any given morning or afternoon enjoying a walk for exercise," he added.

Georgia roads, however, did not experience an increase in pedestrian deaths. While national figures for 2011 have not been released, statistics provided to The Times from the GOHS reveal 123 pedestrians were killed in 2011 compared to 168 in 2010. There have also been two deaths thus far in 2012.

While crosswalks and signals can reduce the possibility of pedestrians being struck by traffic, responsibility is also a factor.

Alcohol can be a factor in many deaths whether it be the driver or the pedestrian. Alcohol was a factor in 48 percent of pedestrian fatalities in 2009, according to the NHTSA data.

Other simple steps can also prevent pedestrians from being struck by a car.

While running at night, pedestrians should always wear reflective clothing, Harris said.

"By no means am I suggesting that the pedestrian is at fault, but there are people who are listening to their iPod or are deeply engaged in conversation with their friends, which is wonderful but at the same time you have to keep an eye on the traffic around you," he said.

But the driver can also be at fault by driving distracted. Whether that be talking on the cell phone or some other activity, Harris said the driver's attention should never leave the road.

"Everyone should have the ability to go out on a given day and enjoy a good walk, either for exercise or for their own transportation," Harris said. "We just want them to be cognizant that there are motorists on the road they have to share that road with."