New crosswalk on Decatur represents a trail of tears

A few months ago, Doris Stoehr got the good news: The city of Las Vegas was finally going to install that crosswalk she’d been begging for.

It would let her and her neighbors walk without fear across busy Decatur Boulevard to get from their senior apartments to the bank across the street.

The Las Vegas Manor apartments sit north of Vegas Drive, far from any intersection. Many residents are old and frail. They can’t walk all the way up to Lake Mead Boulevard or Vegas Drive to get to a crosswalk. Often, they just walked across the busy street anyway and hoped for the best.

This is in a town where 42 pedestrians were hit by cars and killed last year. There have already been 14 pedestrian deaths this year, an increase over last year’s high.

Almost half of the nearly 300 pedestrian deaths in Nevada since 2007 were at spots just like the one in front of the apartment complex: midblock with no crosswalk.

It’s gotten so bad that the Legislature is considering toughening the state’s laws to protect pedestrians.

Senate Bill 179 would make drivers stop at crosswalks with pedestrians in them, rather than yielding.

It would allow cities and counties to establish pedestrian safety zones where foot and bike traffic is high. They could put signs up and reduce the speed limits there.

It would also increase fines for drivers who pass cars that are stopped at a crosswalk or who speed in a school zone, and ban U-turns and passing in school zones.

Stoehr was fully aware of the danger. She had stopped driving already because her eyes and ears weren’t what they used to be.

So, she complained to the city. She wanted a crosswalk in front of her apartment complex. She was that type of person, her son Pat said. She wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing.

A nurse for most of her life, she loved helping people, Pat said. She went on missions with the Peace Corps four times.

“It was kind of a natural thing for her,” he said. She moved to Las Vegas in her 60s, he said, and had been at Las Vegas Manor for a decade.

But no matter how much residents want a crosswalk, the city can’t just install one in any old place. Sometimes, doing so can actually make things more dangerous. A crosswalk can give pedestrians a false sense of security. If it’s in a bad spot, where drivers can’t see them, for example, it can make things worse.

“They’ve needed a crosswalk for a long time,” Pat Stoehr said.

So the city studied the problem. Traffic engineers determined that Stoehr was right. That area could use a crosswalk.

Then one day this past January, just weeks before construction began on the crosswalk, Stoehr set out just after 10 in the morning. It was a chilly day — windy with cloudy skies.

She started across Decatur, made it through the three northbound lanes, crossed over the median, but didn’t make it to the other side. A pickup driven by a 58-year-old local man hit her. She died at the scene.

Pat Stoehr said he’s not angry at the city or the driver who hit his mom. He wishes the police would hurry up with their official report so he could finally know the details.

It’s frustrating not to know.

For now, he’ll take solace in knowing that the crosswalk his mom so badly wanted is finally finished. City officials will hold a dedication ceremony at the spot on Monday.

A crosswalk and tougher state laws won’t fix the problem we have here with pedestrian fatalities. But they can help.

Got a transportation question, comment or gripe? Ship it off to Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @RJroadwarrior.

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