It's been a deadly year for pedestrians in Charlotte, and it's still just February. Wednesday's deaths of two brothers - one just a year old and the other five - are as heart-wrenching as any.
The two were with their father and sister on their way to a nearby day care center in west Charlotte when they were struck and killed by a Sears delivery truck. They had been walking along the edge of the roadway because there were no sidewalks. The father had been pushing a stroller while his 5-year-old son pushed another.
This is an unimaginable tragedy, both for the family of those killed and for the truck driver who has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle. And we are left with the uneasy feeling that this tragedy may have been avoided. The lack of sidewalks in the area seemed to play a central role.
Police are still investigating but residents bemoan the lack of sidewalks where the accident occurred. They say there are no sidewalks for a tenth of a mile, even though two school bus stops are nearby and pedestrians regularly use the road to get to a nearby store and to the public library. One resident said she had called the city and complained about the area.
The city, for its part, agrees that the area needs sidewalks - there had been at least two other pedestrian accidents in the area before Wednesday's - but officials said there was no money in the budget for them. It will be hard to square that notion in the eyes of some, given officials' fight a couple of years ago to force sidewalks where some residents didn't want them. Some residents will also view that with skepticism given the millions in local taxpayer dollars being invested in light rail and other transportation improvements.
We pray they will find the money for sidewalks now.
We get why those other investments are wise. But the less sexy, more meat-and-potatoes projects like sidewalks and adequate street lights and signs deserve attention too - and it shouldn't take a tragedy to get it. A recent report has already tagged Charlotte the 17th most dangerous city for pedestrians out of 52 U.S. metro areas with more than 1 million people. Two hundred and eight pedestrians were killed in the Charlotte metro area in the decade from 2000-2009, according to the report from Transportation for America. Seventeen percent of all traffic deaths in Mecklenburg County were pedestrians.
Sadly, it did take a tragedy to get city action last month after two pedestrians were struck within days of each other - one of them killed - at the same intersection of Stonewall and College streets. About two weeks later, the city installed new signs warning drivers who make turns to yield to pedestrians. The pedestrian who was killed, a Wells Fargo executive, was struck by a dump truck making a right turn.
The truck that hit the two boys Wednesday was also making a turn. Neighbors say the area sorely needs a sidewalk or speed bumps to slow cars. They say cars and trucks often speed in the area though police did not say the driver in Wednesday's accident was speeding.
Residents in the area say they will petition City Council and the mayor for the sidewalks. But they shouldn't have to. City transportation officials already acknowledge sidewalks are needed.
Citizens shouldn't have to walk along a narrow shoulder or in the roadway as traffic zooms by because there are no sidewalks. When they do, they can get killed. Two children are dead in stark testimony to that reality. The city must do more to help avoid other such tragedies.