North Texas Daily

Pedestrian safety concerns follow student death

Pedestrian safety concerns follow student death

February 11
23:56 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Brenna Charless Taylor’s tragic death sparked a citywide effort to address pedestrian safety concerns in Denton.

On Jan. 15, Taylor was crossing the street at the intersection of Bell Avenue and Withers Street when a northbound car hit her, said Officer Ryan Grelle, spokesperson for the Denton Police Department. She was transported to Denton Regional Medical Center where she was pronounced dead.

“My understanding was that she did not cross at a designated crosswalk,” Grelle said. “And then the person driving the vehicle struck her and then she was taken to the hospital where she passed away.”

The area where Taylor was struck is frequented by pedestrians, yet lacks crosswalks or signs. Whether the street was unsafe to cross is an issue raised by the Pedestrian Safety Assessment Task Force, an initiative spearheaded by Denton City Council member Kevin Roden, who also chairs Denton’s mobility committee.

“Safety is the most basic of justifications for this, but there are many others. The dense population surrounding TWU and UNT, their proximity to downtown and the train station, and the neighborhoods that are near and in between are strategic places to encourage residents to get around without a car,” Roden wrote in a statement on his blog last month.

Honoring a young soul

Just a block away from where Taylor died was Texas Woman’s University.

Taylor was a senior in interdisciplinary studies, and is survived by her twin brother, Brennan, and older sister Breiona.

TWU Vice President of Student Life Monica Mendez-Grant issued a statement on Jan. 16.

“It is with great sadness that I inform you that TWU student Brenna Charless Taylor, an interdisciplinary studies senior, died Thursday evening after she was struck by a vehicle near campus. Our sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time,” the statement read.

Friends who graduated from Sherman High School in 2010 with Taylor started a fundraiser on the crowdfunding site, Fundrazr, to raise money for the family’s funeral and memorial costs. Tevin Brown, administrator of the page and Taylor’s cousin, helped facilitate 47 donations of more than $2,000.

“One of the most kind-hearted and beautiful spirits to be known has been given wings,” Brown said. “Brenna was well-loved and will be truly missed.”

Pedestrian issues on campus

At UNT, pedestrian accidents don’t happen very often, said Cpl. John DeLong, community relations officer for UNT Police. This is a result of the university’s Safe Street program wherein officers patrol areas that have high violation incidents, like speeding and driving in the wrong direction. When officers spot a violator, they issue a verbal or written warning or a citation depending on the severity of the violation.

DeLong said officers typically look for hazardous activities on campus when dealing with pedestrian-driver accidents. He cited the new city ordinance banning texting and driving as an example that pedestrians who text while crossing the road, or are simply not paying attention to their surroundings, can also be a safety hazard for drivers.

“Just because you may have the right of way doesn’t mean it’s always the right thing to do at that time,” he said. “You can’t predict what they’re going to do, so if you’re not paying attention, they may not be paying attention, too, and those types of accidents can happen.”

DeLong also said although some streets on campus lack crosswalks or signs, people are generally safe waiting at the corner before crossing.

“Anywhere that there’s an intersection, even if there’s not a crosswalk from point A to point B or from one side of the street to the other, that is considered a safe place to walk, and those are places to cross,” he said.

A city safe for all

The first meeting of the task force, hosted by Roden, was held Jan. 20 at his Denton home where he and attendees brainstormed recommendations for the city council regarding pedestrian safety at UNT, TWU, the downtown area and the DCTA A-train station.

“This area of our city can be used to pilot, incubate and accelerate innovative, alternative transportation ideas that can ultimately be scaled city-wide,” Roden said.

He listed two ways in which the Denton community can contribute: helping crowdsource a list of problems and suggestions toward pedestrian and bicycle accommodations as well as considering membership in the task force or a similar cause.

The task force currently has about 25 members. Glen Farris Squibb, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and a member of the task force, said the city has identified the downtown area as walkable, and as it gets denser in population and foot traffic, accidents are also increasing in number.

In his experience with other task forces, Squibb said he found the priority is often given to the vehicle.

“What I’ve seen in the past when you get these task forces together for safety is that you get awareness,” he said. “Maybe you’ll get some signage, which is all well and good, but until you get traffic and safety and police on board with making an area pedestrian-prioritized, you’re not going to get a meaningful effect on an area.”

Squibb contrasted pedestrian safety in the downtown Denton area with that at universities. If a person on campus crosses a street in front of a moving vehicle, the vehicle would stop, but if that person did the same at the Denton Square, he or she would most likely be publicly derided through honking or verbal insults, Squibb said.

“We really want to bring the culture of what happens on the UNT campus and extend it to the Square where people are aware that people are going to be walking out on the street in front of a moving vehicle in a crosswalk and they won’t get hit or yelled at,” Squibb said.

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