Thank you, Michael Haynes, for your recent article on the ever-increasing dangers of being a pedestrian in downtown Knoxville. ["Climate Change," Shot of Urban, May 12, 2011] I could not agree more that something desperately must change at the busier-than-ever intersection of Main and Gay, as well as Gay and Cumberland, in order to protect the pedestrian public while the Henley Street Bridge is closed. The ignoring of pedestrian walk signals has been a problem in downtown Knoxville long before the closure of the Henley Street Bridge, but it has become a much greater danger since that closure.
I venture out onto the city sidewalks daily for various errands as required by my job. My office is at the 800 block of Gay Street, and therefore I have no choice but to cross Gay Street at either Main or Cumberland. Both of these intersections are jammed up daily due to the increase in traffic. A few weeks ago, while waiting for the walk signal at Main and Gay, I watched as the driver of a vehicle, southbound on Gay Street, became trapped in the middle of the intersection as the light changed from green to yellow to red. Since she was blocking traffic, she placed her vehicle in reverse and backed up to get out of the intersection. Of course, since she didn't look behind her before she backed up, she nearly struck the pedestrian who had just stepped off the curb behind her. Luckily, the pedestrian was paying attention, and he managed to make a dash for it before she hit him. He banged his brief case on the back of her car as he narrowly escaped the crush. Then she looked behind her. She never realized that she had nearly ran over him. This is only one of many near pedestrian vs. vehicle incidents I have witnessed at this intersection. Others include a KAT bus driver racing through the intersection so as not to have to wait on the pedestrian traffic. Once I was walking through this same intersection as the walk light changed to the countdown numbers, when a KAT driver entered the intersection, came to a screeching halt within two feet of my body, leaned out the window, and screamed "Don't Walk!"
In November of 2009, at the intersection of Gay and Cumberland, I was the victim of a careless driver who was distracted by eating and talking on her cell phone while ignoring said pedestrian walk signal. She turned left into my body with her SUV. I thought to myself, I'm going to die today! I am oh-so-thankful that she stopped before completely running over me. She is thankful for insurance, which she mentioned and told me not to worry, while I was laying on the pavement waiting for the ambulance to arrive and trying to figure out which part of my body was receiving the most pain. But it was all okay because she had insurance. Easy for her to say, while standing upright!
A uninformed traffic control officer should be stationed at both of these intersections during regular business hours until the Henley Street bridge reopens. It's the only way to ensure pedestrian safety.