It's an hour after sunset on a cold, clear January evening. Charles Leo Grazier of Reno wants to cross Boulder Highway. The closest crosswalk is more than a block away at the signal where Lamb Boulevard becomes Desert Inn Road.
So, the 63-year-old Grazier tries to cross six lanes of Boulder Highway near Mayorga Street.
First he's hit and knocked down by a van. Then he's run over by a pickup. The van driver stops and waits for police, but the pickup leaves.
Grazier is dead at the scene.
It's a fatal but all too familiar equation in the Las Vegas Valley.
Start with high speeds, wide roads and few crosswalks, and then add in reckless pedestrians and distracted drivers.
That deadly formula killed 29 pedestrians on Clark County roadways through July this year, an average of one a week. Las Vegas police have already responded to more reports of pedestrians killed by automobiles than in all of 2011.
The problem is at its worst on or near Boulder Highway, where six pedestrians have been killed this year, four of them on a two-mile stretch between Lamb Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue.
There are some obvious factors: Pedestrians disregarding traffic signals or crosswalks, inattentive drivers and drug or alcohol use often play a role. Eighteen of the 29 pedestrians killed were reported to be outside of a crosswalk or crossing against the signal when they were hit.
But beneath those easy answers lies an engineering problem. As Las Vegas sprawled outward, its roads were designed to move only cars - sometimes at the expense of pedestrian safety.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on Boulder Highway, where intersections can be up to a mile apart and pedestrians clash with cars moving 45 to 55 mph - when they're not speeding.
"There's little regard for the person using human power, whether it be their two feet or a bicycle," said Erin Breen, director of the Safe Community Partnership Program at UNLV. "When you put pedestrians in that mix, it's a fatality waiting to happen."
Breen looks at the increase from last year in auto-pedestrian fatalities across the valley and sees two possible explanations: the economy and warmer weather.
The rough job market could mean more people are walking rather than driving, she said. And the longer a person walks, the more prone they are to jaywalk.
"If you don't walk often, you're much more inclined to do the right things ... until you learn that it doesn't matter if you do the right thing," she said.
And higher temperatures throughout the year means more pedestrians have been out on the streets, increasing the odds of a fatality, she said.
April was the worst month so far for auto-pedestrian deaths, with seven.
In 2011, Transportation for America ranked the Las Vegas Valley the sixth most dangerous metropolitan area in the United States, based upon the number of pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2009, up from 11th in the organization's previous ranking in 2009. An average of 42 pedestrians were killed annually in that 10-year period.
With an average of four deaths each month, 2012 is on pace to end with 48 fatalities. But Breen fears the worst is yet to come, since August and September generally have the most fatalities.
Las Vegas police Sgt. Rich Strader has gone on camera this year more times than he can count to plead with pedestrians: Stop jaywalking. Stop taking your life in your hands.
"Car versus a pedestrian: Who's going to win?" Strader said.
Minutes after making that same plea when Frank Harry Martini, 50, was struck and killed while jaywalking across Boulder Highway near the Eastside Cannery on July 3, Strader watched three more pedestrians dart across the road in the middle of the street.
"That's the people we're missing. It's hard," Strader said. "It's like banging my head against a wall sometimes."
Educating drivers and walkers to obey the rules of the road and watch out for one another is a big part of the goal to bring all traffic fatalities down.
But the rash of deaths on Boulder Highway this year highlights the growing discussion that more changes need to be made to ensure pedestrian safety.
BIG, WIDE STREETS
The "highway" in its name says it all: Boulder Highway is not pedestrian-friendly.
Since U.S. Highway 95 replaced Boulder Highway as the main thoroughfare between Las Vegas and Boulder City, the old highway has slowly become more of an urban corridor with shopping centers, motels and casinos.
The amount of pedestrians in the area has changed, but the roadway - and its ability to handle pedestrians - has not.
"We've created, because of how fast our community has grown, an issue that makes it hard for people to get from point A to point B without crossing that big, major roadway," Strader said.
Boulder Highway has been on the radar of Las Vegas police as a problem area for pedestrians since May, Strader said.
At least 20 pedestrians were killed on Boulder Highway from 2001 to 2009, according to Transportation for America's pedestrian fatality database. The most deadly year in that period was 2002, when six pedestrians were hit and killed on the old highway.
Depending on where you are, the speed limit is between 45 and 55 mph. Its three wide lanes, both northbound and southbound, separated by a large median, could be a problem too. Experts agree that the width of a road can make it more dangerous for pedestrians to cross.
And although every major intersection along Boulder Highway has a crosswalk, the distance between signaled intersections on the old highway ranges from one-fifth of a mile to almost a mile.
Police say four of the six pedestrians killed on or near Boulder Highway through July this year were outside of a crosswalk when they were hit. In some cases, they were just a few hundred feet away from a marked crossing, Strader said.
"To me, that's like, 'What are you thinking?' " he said.
Nonetheless, installing more crosswalks on Boulder Highway has come up at monthly meetings where law enforcement and transportation experts discuss possible solutions. It's a challenge to find the right place, Strader said.
"They (traffic engineers) need to really look at where people are crossing, instead of where they want them to cross," Breen said.
Breen's No. 1 concern on Boulder Highway is the speed. After that, it's crosswalks and lighting. Four of six fatal accidents this year happened between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Talks of possible improvements are always going on at the Nevada Department of Transportation, which maintains the roadway, spokesman Damon Hodge said.
After Martini's death, NDOT workers put a painted crosswalk back down outside the Eastside Cannery. It had been gone for several years because of ongoing construction.
Hodge said installing generally requires a pedestrian study, and there aren't any going on currently on Boulder Highway. He said NDOT officials continually review Las Vegas police crash data for the highway to see if any other changes may be necessary.
NO EASY ANSWER
Officials say there is no silver bullet or magic pill. Part of the problem facing those looking for answers behind the deaths of 29 pedestrians is that they can't find one.
"There's really not a common denominator that you can just grab and say, 'Aha, that's what we're going to fix,' " said Carl Scarbrough, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada's manager of transit amenities.
And the engineering concerns are not unique to Boulder Highway. It's a countywide, if not statewide, problem.
"There is a growing recognition that street design has focused on automobile travel while not providing amenities for bicycles and pedestrians."
That's from the transportation commission's planning documents for Complete Streets, a long-term initiative that aims to update streets to accommodate all forms of travel. Making car lanes slimmer and sidewalks wider are part of that plan, along with decreasing speed limits, adding bike lanes and increasing the distance between cars and pedestrians.
The problem on Boulder Highway and other roads is that drivers don't expect pedestrians, said David Swallow, RTC's director of engineering services capital projects.
RTC officials revamped a 12-mile stretch of Sahara Avenue in the past two years to include more cues for drivers that pedestrians are around: bus lanes, wider sidewalks with curbside trees and median landscaping.
In March, the agency fired up the first high-intensity activated crosswalk, or HAWK, signal on Sahara Avenue near 15th Street, east of Maryland Parkway. A preliminary study of the signal's effectiveness showed it reduced jaywalking rates in the area, Swallow said. One in three pedestrians was jaywalking before. Now it's down to one in 11.
"Now pedestrians are crossing in a place where drivers are expecting them and will yield to them," he said.
RTC has put those high-tech signals and infrastructure changes in "the toolbox" to give transportation entities more options for improving roadway safety, Swallow said.
Hodge, from NDOT, said there are no current plans to install a HAWK signal on Boulder Highway. The agency is looking statewide to find places where those signals can be installed, chief safety engineer Chuck Reider said.
Still, both Breen and Strader say there is no replacement for educating pedestrians to be smart while crossing the street.
"We need to make sure pedestrians understand that just because they have the right of way, that doesn't mean magic spikes will come out of the road to stop a car," Breen said.
Contact Kyle Potter at email@example.com or 702-383-0391.