Originally Published: January 6, 2018 6:02 a.m.
Anyone who has walked or cycled the streets of Prescott probably has a close-call story: The time a right-turning vehicle nearly hit them in a crosswalk, or the time a vehicle turned left directly in front of an oncoming bicycle rider.
Still, the close calls are the lucky ones.
Over the past four years, nearly 200 pedestrians and cyclists have been hit by a vehicle on the streets of Prescott.
In fact, on an average of every other week or so since 2013, a vehicle-versus-pedestrian collision has occurred.
The scenarios vary, ranging from accidents at crosswalks, to backing incidents in parking lots, to conflicts at entrances to alleyways.
Bicycle/vehicle collisions happened less frequently, but still on an average of more than once a month.
According to information from the Prescott Police Department, 106 vehicle-versus-pedestrian accidents occurred from 2013 to 2017. During the same time period, 72 vehicle-versus-bicycle accidents occurred.
A number of factors are involved, says David Fuller, lead police officer and public information officer for the Prescott Police Department.
First of all, he and other city officials point out that Prescott — especially in the downtown area — simply has a lot of pedestrian and bike traffic.
“We have a very strong biking and walking downtown,” Fuller said. “The downtown just kind of lends itself to that.”
He also points out that accidents are not always the fault of the drivers. Oftentimes, he said, pedestrians cross a street against traffic (on a red light, or at mid-block) and are hit by oncoming traffic.
Likewise, he said bicycle riders don’t always follow traffic rules.
The statistics from the Police Department do not differentiate whether the driver or pedestrian/biker was at fault, or whether the collision resulted in an injury.
Regardless, Prescott Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr sees the number of collisions as surprisingly high.
Orr, who served as the City Council’s liaison to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission (recently changed to the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Advisory Committee), said the group has worked through the city Public Works Department to add safety features to new road projects.
In some cases, she said, streets have been marked with “sharrows” to remind drivers to share the road with bikes.
And Fuller pointed out that some years back, the city converted its downtown traffic signals to include countdowns for pedestrian traffic — a move that he said helped to make crossing the street safer.
But accidents and near misses still happen.
Orr is among those with a close-call story. On a recent morning, she said, “I was crossing Gurley at Montezuma, and a car turned right at the last minute.”
Although Orr says she typically tries to have eye contact with drivers at crosswalks, “It was 6:30 in the morning, and it was still dark,” and the driver turned right unexpectedly.
“We have a lot of pedestrians here,” Orr said. “For me, a lot of it is that drivers need to slow down a little bit, and really watch for pedestrians downtown.”
Fuller suggests that everyone, including pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists, needs to be more focused of what’s going on around them.
“The biggest thing is situational awareness,” he said. “Be aware of your surroundings.”
Fuller, who worked as a bicycle officer for about 10 years, said he is well aware of the challenges that cyclists have in Prescott’s downtown. High among the challenges: Drivers sometimes don’t see bicycles.
“You’re just less visible,” he said.
‘Visibility and predictability’
That is also a point that Bill Fanelli, the past chairman of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, makes.
“Visibility and predictability are two things we push for in Bike Prescott,” Fanelli said, referring to a local cycling club (www.bikeprescott.org).
Because drivers sometimes tend not to see bikes, Fanelli said the club urges its riders to wear visible clothing and use LED lighting. As for predictability, he said, “Certainly, following the rules of the road.”
Fanelli, a recreational cyclist who moved to Prescott about three and a half years ago, says Prescott’s downtown is challenging for cyclists, in part, because “bikes and cars are so close to each other.”
He maintains, however, that “there are ways we can improve that.” More striped bike lanes would help, he says, as would more bike signage. “The good news is it’s doable,” Fanelli said. Taking some of the safety steps likely would encourage more cyclists to take to the streets, he said. “Overall, there’s a category of experienced cyclists who are generally pretty confident on the roads around there,” he said. “But there is a huge category who would love to, but aren’t comfortable enough to do it.”
And the experts agree: The more cyclists on the streets, the more awareness among drivers.
Meanwhile, though, Fuller urges each driver, rider, and walker to take responsibility. “We just encourage everyone to be aware of their surroundings and be alert for the unexpected,” he said. “Bad things can happen in a heartbeat.”
That is especially apparent in the final statistic from the Police Department: Since 2013, Prescott’s vehicle-versus-pedestrian/bicycle crashes have resulted in three pedestrian fatalities, and one bicycle fatality.