The Charlotte Department of Transportation will investigate safety improvements along a southwest Charlotte street where a 51-year-old man was hit and killed last Friday night.
Melvin Givens’ fatal accident happened just four days after a CDOT panel discussed the possibility of installing a median there, but took no action.
Residents of the nearby Steele Creek Seniors apartment complex said at a news conference Thursday that they had warned city officials about the dangerous stretch of Steele Creek Road months ago. They said seniors have to cross the street to reach a heavily used bus stop, and added that the situation should have been addressed before Givens died.
Givens was hit after he and his mother, who lived across the street at the complex, got off a city bus.
Neighbors said that they had suggested adding a crosswalk, overhead lights, moving the bus stop and reducing the speed limit below 50 to improve safety. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers from the Steele Creek division said they’ll work with CDOT to make changes.
But many residents said they’re angry that changes weren’t made a long time ago; they said it shouldn’t take a death to make changes happen.
More than 50 seniors, seven police officers and two Charlotte Area Transit System representatives met at the living center Thursday morning for the press conference, which was called by the seniors’ tenant association. Givens’ mother was too upset to attend.
The residents, as well as Givens’ sister-in-law, Era Dillard, wanted answers.
“Why do we have to get killed to get a start” on changes? one resident asked.
“Why wasn’t a solution thought about first?” Dillard asked while Capt. Allan Rutledge, the commander of the Steele Creek division, was at the lectern. Residents applauded.
Rutledge said he agreed that more safety measures should be in place, but the police don’t have much power over where crosswalks or lights can be installed.
“We’re going to work closely with the DOT to work something out,” he said.
Then Marvin Bohon, a safety manager with CATS, took the podium. He said he hadn’t heard anything about the bus stop until two days ago.
“We are looking at routes to see if there is a stop we can put on this side,” he said.
One woman asked what the community can do to help a plan move forward, but Bohon didn’t give specifics.
“This is a great start,” he told the crowd. “Let’s see what we can do as quick as we can.”
Petition urged safety changes
In late February or early March of this year, Charlotte Area Transit System and CDOT discussed the desire for a crosswalk at that bus stop, which is near Branch Bend Lane, said Olaf Kinard, a spokesman for CATS. Several seniors use the bus because they either don’t have cars or can’t drive.
CATS oversees buses, while CDOT handles crosswalks and other street safety issues.
Kinard said CATS has not received a request for the bus stop to be moved to the other side of the road.
Bob Stiles, the president of the seniors’ tenant association, said that in March, he wrote a petition for safety changes, which about 60 people signed. He emailed it to CDOT via its feedback form on its website.
Stiles said he never got a response. Linda Durrett, a spokeswoman for CDOT, said such an email could not be located Thursday afternoon.
In June, Stiles contacted his county commissioner, Vilma Leake, about his concerns. Leake visited Stiles that evening and saw the safety concerns for herself.
“I immediately came back the next day and got in touch with CATS, talked with (CATS Chief Executive Officer) Carolyn Flowers, and staff members,” Leake said. “They told me they’d get on top of it, and they talked about it, but they did not come up with solutions.”
Linda Durrett said in an email Thursday that a request was made earlier this year to CDOT’s pedestrian crossing committee “to review access” from the senior housing to the bus stop.
“The issue was discussed, and on Sept. 17, the committee felt locating a pedestrian refuge island there might enhance safety in this area,” Durrett wrote. “Currently, no engineering studies have been conducted nor design plans made. There are no capital funds earmarked to construct any safety measures at this time.”
Four days after the committee’s discussion, Givens was visiting his mother at the senior living center. That Friday night, the two decided to take a bus to get some ice cream and fruit punch, said Dillard.
Upon returning, a bus dropped them off across the street from the senior living center, and the two began to cross the street. Givens was hit by a vehicle, and died around 3 a.m. Saturday morning.
Deaths spur city action
A pedestrian death does seem to give a location higher priority for getting safety improvements in Charlotte.
At least three pedestrian deaths this year have spurred action by the city. In January, the city closed a lane of traffic at College and East Stonewall streets after a banker was hit and killed there, and a pedestrian was hit at the same place the next day.
In February, two boys, ages 1 and 5, were struck and killed by a delivery truck while walking with their father along a stretch of West Tyvola Road. The following month, the Charlotte City Council voted to shift money from a road project that came in under budget to build a sidewalk there.
In March, a senior at Garinger High School was killed while crossing Eastway Drive near East Sugar Creek Road on the city’s east side. The City Council soon after voted to install a signaled crosswalk near the crash site.
An Observer analysis found Charlotte has seen an increase in pedestrian-related crashes in recent years. Givens’ death is the 19th of the year in Charlotte. A record 24 pedestrians were killed by vehicles last year.
After the news conference, Dillard said she’s not convinced changes will come quickly.
“I’m upset,” she said. “That’s how it was: ‘Let’s wait and see who dies first,’ and that’s a sad commentary when talking about the lives of seniors.”
Dillard said she’s still concerned about the safety of other seniors – between 130 and 150 live at the center – who will still cross the street.
“I’m going to fight,” she said. “I’m never going to give up because his death will not be in vain.”
Givens visited his mother nearly every day, Dillard said. Givens lived with Dillard and her husband, and Dillard said he wasn’t able to work because of an accident about 15 years ago.
Dillard described her brother-in-law as a good handyman who loved playing jokes and doing crossword puzzles. He was also a chess champion at a local community center.
Resident Venice Clark recalled Givens with tears in her eyes.
“He was a nice young man,” she said. “He was helpful to his mother. What I’d call a good son.”