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Downtown Johnson City pedestrians lament on dangerous section of road

Madison Mathews • May 17, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Although it’s just a short distance, the stretch of West State of Franklin Road from Buffalo Street to South Roan Street is considered by many who frequent downtown Johnson City to be one of the most dangerous places for pedestrians crossing to and from Cherry Street.

“It’s just ridiculous. It would be nice if they put a police officer out here every once in a while, because if you look even at the (crosswalk) with the big signs and the lights, you hit the light and nobody will stop,” said East Tennessee Computers owner Bob Wakely.

East Tennessee Computers is located at the corner of Spring Street and State of Franklin, where Wakely’s security camera caught footage of 23-year-old Rachel Witt being hit by a car as she attempted to cross the road April 18.

Witt reportedly told police she was not injured.

While that’s good news, Wakely said he’s surprised more people haven’t been seriously injured or killed while trying to cross that treacherous stretch of West State of Franklin.

“I sit at my desk and watch that camera and I notice every two or three people that cross they’ll have people that just don’t pay attention,” he said.

Wakely said a police officer was hit several years ago, and another man was hit and killed in 2007 while crossing the street. He believes that should be enough for city officials and law enforcement to start seriously considering looking at the problem of pedestrian safety downtown.

“My son and I cross the street every other day and ... once we’re in the crosswalk, we don’t know if somebody is going to stop and half the time I wave at them and point at the crosswalk and they’ll stop. Sometimes they’ll just go right through and flip me off like it’s my fault,” he said.

Wakely said the only option to better safety downtown is for law enforcement to start cracking down on those who speed through the crosswalks along State of Franklin.

“That’s the only way people are going to pay attention if they see consequences or word gets around that if you don’t yield to people down here, you’re going to get a big, ole fine,” he said.

Across the street at Unique Treasures, owner June Wagner said she believes another problem with that stretch of road is the 45 mph speed limit.

“I don’t care if it’s four lanes. It should be slower,” she said.

Wagner said she doesn’t utilize the Cherry Street parking lot because she’s afraid of not being able to make it across State of Franklin without being hit.

“I can’t cross it. I’ve nearly lost my life and we were crossing and we pressed it and the lights were flashing and about the time we had got in the middle, a car (barely) missed us,” she said.

In addition to lowering the speed limit, Wagner said she would like to see an increased police presence and a bridge leading from Cherry Street to downtown, much like the bridge that leads from the Millennium Centre to East Tennessee State University.

With the city working around the clock on revitalizing the downtown area, officials are hoping to generate more foot traffic downtown with the upgrades to city streets — particularly along Buffalo Street — as more businesses locate downtown.

Much like the issue of downtown parking, increased foot traffic is something officials are going to have to look at when banking on the future success of the downtown area.

“We’ve created an environment to bring more people downtown so now we need to make it safe for them to be down here and make it safe for them to cross the street,” Washington County Economic Development Center Director of Redevelopment Shannon Castillo said.

Castillo said city officials are working on plans to make downtown a more pedestrian-friendly place.

Some of those plans include upgrading lighting and striping along State of Franklin as it leads into downtown, and placing medians in the road.

Another potential plan is to look at moving the crosswalk that leads from Cherry Street to downtown, Castillo said.

“I think the bottom line when it comes to parking and safety, if we want people to park in the bigger parking lot on Cherry Street, then we need to make it safer for people to cross the street,” she said.

Reach Press Staff Writer Madison Mathews at mmathews@johnsoncitypress.com.

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