‘Safety blitz’ comes to dangerous stretch of Davison

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The crosswalk is only a few feet away, yet the woman and her two children jaywalk anyway, across a stretch of Davison Avenue that is the most dangerous two-mile stretch in southeastern Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Rita Screws, left, and Brian Finch stand on Davison between I-96 and M-10 to get the word out to be safe in Detroit on Friday.

When approached and asked whether it’d be possible for her to use the crosswalk on her return trip, the woman listens, then jaywalks again.

That, says Diane Cross, spokeswoman for MDOT, recalling an early morning exchange with the pedestrian, is just one example of the human behaviors that have made the stretch of Davison between the Lodge Freeway and Interstate 96 the site of some 910 vehicle crashes over the last five years. Pedestrians were involved in 16 of those crashes, including one individual who died and another who was left incapacitated, according to MDOT.

Retired Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson was one of about 50 of the highlighter-green reflective T-shirt-wearing volunteers out on Davison for a “safety blitz” Friday. Hanson noticed that motorists seemed to drive faster than the posted 35 miles per hour speed limit. Some pedestrians crossed the heavily traveled road against the lights, and some jaywalked rather than using crosswalks.

As a kicker, Hanson said, he’s gained an appreciation of form, of process. Results can still be favorable when one’s process is off, Hanson said, but fundamentals still matter. And ignoring them matters.

The two-mile stretch of Davison between I-96 and the Lodge Freeway is the most unsafe two miles in Southeast Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“You can get away with doing the wrong thing for so long,” Hanson said, “but eventually it’ll catch up to you. Maybe you’ll be safe the first 50 times you cross that street, but not the 51st time.”

Volunteers on Davison carried clipboards and wore green slapbands that matched their shirts. The clipboards allowed them to track how pedestrians actually use the street. Slapbands were given to pedestrians who followed the rules: who used crosswalks and waited for the walk light. When possible, volunteers talked with pedestrians about why they crossed the street where they crossed. A number mentioned the need to catch a bus on the opposite side of the street.

Kajal Patel, a traffic safety engineer with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, or SEMCOG, said she was surprised how many people didn’t know to press the button to activate the walk light on corners.

A number of volunteers mentioned the geography of this stretch of Davison, between two fast-moving freeways, as a reason why so few drivers seemed to be observing the speed limit.

“People are driving from one freeway to the next one, and driving like they drove on the freeway,” Cross said. “(Southeast Michigan) has 40 percent of the state’s population, and these two miles are the most unsafe part of it, worse than any two-mile stretch of freeway.”

Kenya Felder, a pedestrian on Davison, said “people just don’t care” when informed of crash statistics on the street. “They got stop signs and lights, but people just don’t care anymore.” As for his own walking habits on the street, Felder admits he does “a little bit of both” using the crosswalk and jaywalking.

“You might as well use the light, or (a car) will end up jumping the curb or speeding anyway,” Felder said.

Beyond Friday’s effort, MDOT officials will visit area schools in the spring to explain the importance of using crosswalks and walking with the signal. Over the last year, traffic lane lines have been brightened.

And in 2017, MDOT will implement a still-in-the-works plan to address safety concerns on Davison Avenue, said Rita Screws, a manager with MDOT’s Detroit Transportation Service Centers. The information volunteers compiled on their clipboards will factor into the department’s work.

Traffic safety is a major issue in the state that put the world on wheels. Nationwide, 35,000 people die in traffic collisions each year, according to MDOT. Michigan is part of a national campaign called “Toward Zero Deaths,” an effort that started in 2009 as part of the national strategic highway safety plan.

In 2011, Michigan had 889 traffic deaths. MDOT’s goal is to get that number down to 750 in 2016. Thus far in 2015, 670 people have died in car crashes on Michigan roads.

How to get from that to zero deaths is a matter of the four Es of traffic safety, Cross said: enforcement, engineering, education and emergency services. On Davison, enforcement will mean a heavier police presence. Engineering has meant marking lane lines more brightly and will include further efforts in 2017. Emergency services entails working with emergency responders. Education is the purpose of an event like the safety blitz.

Perhaps, Screws said, if people learned to think of Davison Avenue as unsafe, they would modify their behaviors.

Education is also why the state uses Dynamic Message Signs, the black-and-amber ones seen along freeways, which are updated each Wednesday with the most recent fatality statistics. Some 90 percent of car crashes are owed to human error, according to MDOT.