Four people were killed in pedestrian or bicyclist related crashes in Alachua County in January — a number authorities say is higher than usual for the time of year.
There were 156 pedestrian crashes in Alachua County in 2019, according to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles crash dashboard. Of these 156 crashes, 131 involved injuries and 10 were fatal.
On Jan. 27, 16-year-old DJ Washington was struck and killed on SW 20th Avenue after getting off a bus, said Sgt. Jorge Campos, spokesperson for the Gainesville Police Department.
Later that day, 21-year-old Denise Griffiths was hit by a vehicle while walking onto a crosswalk on 2500 E University Ave. She was transported to UF Health Shands in critical condition where she died two days later from her injuries.
On Jan. 28, William Moore, 45, was struck and killed by a milk truck while attempting to cross Highway 441 near Turkey Creek, said Lt. Patrick Riordan, Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson.
Two days later, on Jan. 30, an unnamed female bicyclist was struck and killed in a hit-and-run on Waldo Road, Campos said. He was unable to confirm her identity as of Tuesday afternoon, as he said her next-of-kin hadn’t been notified.
“The year isn’t up yet, so we can’t tell you over the year,” Campos said, in reference to the uptick in deaths. “But it is higher than usual.”
Pedestrian people of color, especially black or African American and American Indian or Alaska Native people, are killed in crashes at higher rates compared to white, non-Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander people, according to report from Smart Grow America, an organization that researches and advocates for community development across the nation.
According to the report, research also shows that drivers are more likely to yield to white pedestrians than to black pedestrians at crosswalks.
Both Griffiths and Washington are black. The race of the bicyclist is still unknown.
The four pedestrian and bicyclist deaths set a new record in Alachua County for a single year, said Chris Furlow, president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation.
He called the trend and rising death toll “disturbing.”
Furlow said Gainesville’s Vision Zero program policies work to reduce deaths on the roadway to zero by evaluating every crash that occurs and the causes of them. Furlow said the program is a positive approach introduced in Gainesville last year.
Under Vision Zero, the city of Gainesville and UF are working on a study to analyze the locations of crashes and traffic movements through the use of computers and cameras to determine what roadways are the most dangerous, Furlow said.
The study began after the city and university received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 2019.
Furlow said roadways deemed dangerous through this project will be examined for possible modifications to improve safety.
Although the city and the county are working to improve pedestrian safety through preventative measures such as well-marked and well-lit pedestrian crosswalks, Furlow said education is still needed to make these measures successful.
Most of the deaths are preventable, he said, if people stay off their phones, follow the speed limit and pay attention to the road.
“It’s not just the families of the people who are being killed, who are being impacted,” Furlow said. “We all pay a huge price.”
Trends in Gainesville pedestrian crashes are influenced by several factors such as fuel costs, whether people are traveling or if schools are in session, said Dekova Batey, staff liaison of the City of Gainesville Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Board.
Batey said the prevalence of students living in Gainesville who are from other countries, states and cities also plays a role in these trends, as many of them have to adjust to a different roadway network than what they’re used to.
He said weather plays a large role for the prevalence of bicyclists and pedestrians in the city.
“Florida especially has several factors that can play into that issue, just because we have year round bikeable, walkable weather,” Batey said.
Arrive Alive, a state-wide data-driven traffic safety initiative, uses a “multifaceted approach” to make the roads safer, Riordan said.
The Arrive Alive campaign website states that Florida’s “geography, increasing population and thriving tourism industry” are leading causes of the state’s reputation of having one of the highest traffic fatality ranking in America.
Riordan said there is no current campaign through the FHP to specifically address pedestrian safety, and he is unsure if one will be created in the future.
The four incidents will be investigated over a period of 60 to 90 days, he said.
A candlelight vigil was held for Washington Jan. 31 at SW 20th Avenue, where his loved ones gathered to remember and honor the 16-year-old, as reported by WCJB TV20.
Cynthia Gainey, Griffiths’ grandmother, said in order to address the issue of pedestrian safety, “we got to come together as human beings.”
“There’s too many people dying for nothing because no one wants to respect the rights of the pedestrians crossing the street,” Gainey said. “Something’s got to be done.”
Contact Samia Lagmis at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SLagmis.