Taking Action: Addressing safety concerns during downtown Huntsville growth

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- Every week, hundreds of people flock to downtown Huntsville to enjoy everything it has to offer. However, there are concerns when it comes to street safety, specifically on Church Street. Many wonder if it's possible to make the area friendly for both pedestrians and vehicles.

There are multiple crosswalks in the area but people don't always choose to use them. The speed limit in the area is posted as 35 miles per hour. It doesn't sound high, but it could be more dangerous than you think. According to a study done by AAA, the average risk of severe injury for a pedestrian hit by a vehicle going 31 mph is 50 percent. At 39 mph, the risk goes up to 75 percent. At 46 mph, the chance of severe injury goes up to 90 percent.

"There are some roads where clearly pedestrians shouldn't be crossing, like interstates or fast highways," said Chad Emerson, CEO of Downtown Huntsville, Inc. "But there are roads where you entice them to cross from one side of a beautiful park to the other side of a beautiful park and what you've got to understand is that in those instances, we really need to make it safe."

WHNT News 19 took action and hit the streets Monday night.  Hundreds of people armed with lawn chairs and coolers made their way into Big Spring Park for the weekly Concerts in the Park event. We stood on the side of Church Street and used a radar gun to see how fast drivers were going while pedestrians avoided the crosswalk and dodged traffic.

Most people were driving under the speed limit, but it almost seems too fast when you compare it to the number of families who were walking in between the rush of cars.

"We would like to see some real honest to goodness study done of what some incremental steps are that we can do," said Emerson. He told WHNT News 19 that other cities are working on similar issues and now would be a good time to see what Huntsville can do to fix it.  "You probably don't want to do it all at once -- you want to test a few things to see what works and what doesn't."

The last thing anyone wants to do is react to a problem after it happens. Emerson said the stretch of roadway on Church Street running in the middle of Big Spring Park is the place to start studying. "That's one where it's most logical for pedestrians to walk from one side to the other," he said. "They go out, they stroll along the creek or canal, they go along the lake, and we just want to make that a safe experience."

WHNT News 19 corresponded with Huntsville City Administrator John Hamilton by email Tuesday afternoon. He said that city leaders plan to address the piece of Church Street in between Big Spring Park in the near future. They are working on several ideas that can hopefully improve the interaction between pedestrians and drivers. 

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