Sixteen sections of area roads deemed hazardous
By Tom Fontaine
Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013, 10:10 p.m.
Glenice Price's anger grew as she watched traffic pass by as she rode an exercise bike in her physical therapist's office on Penn Avenue in Point Breeze.
Her son, James Price Jr., died in July when a motorist struck him while he rode his bicycle less than a block away on Penn. Jeffrey McClure Jr., 29, of Pitcairn pleaded guilty to hitting Price, 46, and will spend up to five years in prison.
“The way the traffic was flying by, it made me mad. The sign says 35 (mph), but people looked like they were going twice that,” said Price, 76, of Homewood. “I said to myself, ‘No wonder my son got killed.' ”
The section of Penn is part of a two-mile stretch of Route 8 that PennDOT considers Pennsylvania's 11th-most hazardous roadway. An almost three-mile stretch of East Carson Street in the South Side is the state's sixth-most hazardous corridor, state and federal records show.
“I'm not surprised at all,” said Kayla Blackey, 25, who works at Culture Shop on East Carson, home to dozens of bars and restaurants.
“We have heavy traffic here all day long, and people are always in a hurry or not paying attention,” Blackey said. “At night, just add more people and possibly more drinking.”
PennDOT annually ranks high-crash locations. Factors include the number of serious crashes, or ones involving injuries or fatalities; the number of people hurt and killed in the wrecks; and traffic volumes.
To be considered for this year's list, a section of road needed to have at least 64 serious crashes and an intersection needed at least 50 serious wrecks in the previous five years. Almost 340 places made the list, including 16 in Allegheny County. No roads in nine surrounding counties made the list.
PennDOT is required to give the Federal Highway Administration the top 5 percent of crash locations in the state to be eligible for money for safety projects. The federal program will provide $37.8 million this year, down from $43.2 million in 2011.
The state must say what it did, or will do, to curb serious crashes at the locations.
A devastated family
East Carson and Route 8 are among 17 Pennsylvania locations on the federal list, including eight in Philadelphia, four in Bucks County, and one apiece in Berks, Lancaster and York counties.
Northbound motorists on East Carson had 374 crashes between 33rd Street and the Wabash Tunnel from 2007 through 2011, killing three people and injuring 281, making it the region's most hazardous stretch. The southbound stretch of East Carson Street did not appear on either the state or federal lists.
“This was an accident waiting to happen, one that has completely devastated a family. We have to make sure it doesn't happen to somebody else,” Downtown attorney John P. Goodrich said of East Carson Street, lined with more than 50 bars and restaurants that draw people from across Western Pennsylvania.
Goodrich represents a South Park family in a lawsuit related to a Dec. 4, 2010, head-on crash that killed Lexa Cleland, 7, and an unborn baby and pulverized the lower half of mother Nicole Cleland's body.
Cleland, 40, uses a cane and collects Social Security because she cannot work, Goodrich said. She needs up to four reconstructive surgeries, he said.
An Allegheny County judge last year sentenced Travis Isiminger, 25, of Greene County to six to 12 years in prison. He was driving 67 mph in a 25-mph zone when his car plowed into Cleland's near 31st Street. His blood-alcohol content measured at 0.219 percent an hour later, almost three times the legal limit.
Goodrich said Cleland forgives Isiminger. Her husband, Mark, cannot. At a sentencing hearing last year, Mark Cleland told Isiminger: “I will be present at all your parole hearings. When the time comes, I hope I don't still hate you as much as I do today.”
Todd Kravitz, an engineer with the PennDOT district that includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, said most East Carson crashes occur between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., when the street's nightlife is in full swing. Kravitz said city police are becoming more “aggressive about addressing some of the behavioral issues there.”
Increased police patrols resulted in 1,046 traffic citations on Friday and Saturday nights since mid-January, according to city data.
PennDOT completed a traffic safety audit of the East Carson stretch in October but has not finalized improvement plans, Kravitz said.
‘Common sense just isn't there'
Speeding, not alcohol, is a bigger concern along Route 8, according to people who live and work in the area.
“Just look — these people are going at least 50 (mph) so they can try to make that light,” Jim Donoughe said as he opened the door of Peppi's restaurant on Penn Avenue where he works, watching cars race toward Braddock Avenue.
The small diner sits about eight feet from the busy street, separated from it only by a sidewalk.
Price was the first of two bicyclists to die within a week last summer when hit by cars on Penn. Anthony Green, 47, of Wilkinsburg died Aug. 1.
Price was on his regular morning bike ride, part of a regimen to shed weight to fight diabetes, his mother said. He liked to get out before sunrise, before the morning commuter rush and his classes at Dean Institute of Technology on West Liberty Avenue, where he was studying to become an HVAC repairman. His 11-year-old daughter lives in California, she said.
“I think about it every day, all day,” Glenice Price said.
When authorities tried to crack down on dangerous driving after the two deaths, a sport utility vehicle clipped a motorcycle police officer on a traffic safety detail, sending the officer to the hospital with shoulder injuries and scrapes.
“That tells you everything you need to know about that section of Penn Avenue. It's dangerous,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh, a Lawrenceville advocacy group.
Along Penn Avenue, northbound motorists were in 342 crashes between Brushton Avenue in Point Breeze and the Larimer Avenue Bridge. The crashes killed four people and injured 244, making it the region's second-most hazardous stretch. Southbound crashes numbered 279, with two deaths and 192 injuries, placing it No. 5 on the region's list.
“People see two lanes (in each direction), and they just open it up. Common sense just isn't there,” said Gary Serge, owner of Serge Auto Body beneath the Larimer Avenue Bridge.
Kravitz said PennDOT will spend $1.1 million this year on traffic signals, signage and pavement markings to try to make the corridor safer.
Yet Bricker cautioned: “Unless you solve the speeding and weaving problems, I don't think the improvements will make a dent.”
Criteria previously required five serious crashes and one fatality in five years to place an area on state or federal lists. PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said those lists “could be skewed,” noting that locations made the state list “if a random fatal accident, especially those involving multiple fatalities, occurred.”
In 2011, PennDOT rated a stretch of Route 51 between Route 168 and Cannelton Road in northern Beaver County as the state's 13th-most hazardous corridor, even though in the five years prior only six serious crashes occurred along the flat, straight stretch of four-lane highway.
The crashes caused five fatalities and 13 injuries. The worst happened in October 2009 when a car traveling almost 120 mph hit a pickup broadside, killing four and seriously injuring one.
“We never had a lot of crashes out there, but when we've had them, they are bad,” said South Beaver police Chief Daniel McLean.
McLean said PennDOT in recent years installed center turning lanes, flashing yellow lights and pavement markings near intersections.
“I think the changes have helped,” McLean said, noting his department responded to only a couple of crashes last year that did not involve deer bounding across the highway.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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