Opinion: Why Chattanooga must shift to a pedestrian-focused community

If it’s predictable, it’s preventable

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ A pedestrian walks by a floral memorial at the intersection of Forest and Frazier avenues on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ A pedestrian walks by a floral memorial at the intersection of Forest and Frazier avenues on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.

Note: This editorial was updated Dec. 1 to correct the spellings of the names of the victims.

Flowers lay against the boarded-up wall that now covers a Chattanooga gift shop at the corner of Frazier and Forest avenues on the North Shore.

The flowers honor 41-year-old Ana Posso Rodriguez, and her 1-year-old son, Jonathan Devia, who were killed last Saturday by a driver after he collided with another vehicle. The 40-year-old husband and father, Octavio Devia Paz, sustained critical injuries and is in the hospital.

On Monday, motorists traveled along busy Frazier Avenue, passing the scene of the weekend tragedy. How many of them knew what took place at that corner? How many gave a thought to the father who will have to learn to live without his wife and son?

Two of Posso Rodriguez's daughters were in Tennessee with the family at the time of the crash, according to a Times Free Press report.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly responds to deadly crash that killed two pedestrians on Frazier Avenue)

"We came to spend a vacation with my mother and my little brother, and we returned without them, leaving us with an emptiness and an immense pain," Posso Rodriguez's daughters said in a statement to the newspaper. "That's why we ask people not to drive under the influence of any substance or alcohol, and we are asking for justice for Ana Posso and my little brother."

If it's predictable, it's preventable

The driver of the van that struck the pedestrians faces two charges of vehicular homicide by impairment and driving under the influence, among others. That fact might suggest that this was a freak accident, so nothing much can be done. But that's not so.

"If you have an increasing number of freak accidents, it's pointing to a bigger issue," Jon Jon Wesolowski, a pedestrian advocate, said on Monday. "There can only be so many accidents before it becomes a pattern."

(READ MORE: Advocates call for safety after 2 pedestrians killed in Chattanooga)

Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 20 2022, 115 pedestrians were struck by cars. This year, there have been 116, data shows.

Posso Rodriguez and her son make 17 pedestrians who have been killed this year in Chattanooga, according to statistics from the police department. Six pedestrians who were struck died from their injuries at this point in 2022.

This rise in pedestrian deaths cannot be ignored. City officials have pushed for more road inclusivity, such as addition of striped bicycle lanes on Central Avenue and the retractable bollards on Station Street near the Choo Choo. In a statement from a city spokesman on Monday, Mayor Tim Kelly said officials are exploring all options to make streets safer and "reverse the trend" in pedestrian deaths.

"There are additional options in the traffic calming toolbox — bollards, curb extensions, solar-powered signage, reconfigurations, chicanes, etc. — and our folks at CDOT, RPA, and in my office are working together to determine how and where some of them might be quickly deployed here," Kelly said in the statement.

The highly trafficked and pedestrian-heavy Frazier Avenue needs more safety measures: Bollards at each corner of the square in front of the Walnut Street Bridge, speed bumps from the section of Frazier that begins at Tremont Street and ends at Forest Avenue, and lowering the speed limit from 25 mph to 15 mph.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga police charge Florida man in deadly Frazier Avenue crash)

These are not drastic measures; these are rules that say "we are a whole community" that deserves to be protected.

Business owners, too, are anxious for something to be done along Frazier Avenue.

Jessica Dumitru, who owns the building that was heavily damaged in the crash, said since 2000 the building has been struck eight times.

She is constantly worried about Frazier Avenue traffic.

"I am concerned on a daily basis; it is not only the height of the summer when we get tourists and people are walking all up and down going to all of the boutiques and stores and restaurants here. It is every day, 24-hours a day that people take their lives in their hands when they are trying to cross the street, even at the crosswalk."People don't pay attention, they drive too fast and are reckless," Dumitru said in a Local3News report.

The tragedy that occurred on Saturday was predictable and therefore preventable. Business owners, motorists, North Shore residents, police and others who visit the area know the road is dangerous.

Change the culture

The sad truth is that most people get into their cars or trucks — 2,000 pounds-plus of metal — and give not one thought to the responsibility they hold when they venture into the streets.

It sounds as if road safety advocates and the Kelly administration are on the same page. Good. We need a city that prioritizes the safety of all road users.

The memorial for Ana Posso Rodriguez and her son will stay up for days, maybe a few weeks, but it will soon go away. The pain for their family, however, will last a lifetime.

All they wanted to do was visit with family and enjoy what our beautiful community has to offer.

Their loss must propel the city — and all of us — to commit to a pedestrian-first culture. We must learn to share the road.

Lives are at stake.

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