Danger Crossing

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      Danger Crossing

      From the street musicians wailing out jazz. To the fern covered balconies of the French quarter. New Orleans is the place where America lets the good times roll. One of the best ways to see the Big Easy is on foot - if you dare.

      Joce: What message does that send to pedestrians?

      Becky Mowbray: Take your chances.

      All over New Orleans, pedestrians are gambling. Not in the city's casino. But on its streets. An audit released this October discovered only 62 out of the city's 463 intersections have a pedestrian crossing signal. That simple white light that tells you when it's safe to walk. That's only 13-percent of crossings. Bigger cities with even more intersections like Memphis, Tampa and Miami - have signals at more than 80-percent of their crossings.

      Becky Mowbray: It's more like the exception than the rule. When you see a pedestrian light, you're surprised to see a pedestrian light. Whereas in other major cities, they're pretty much on every major corner.

      Becky Mowbray is with the New Orleans inspector general's office. It was their audit that showed the city of New Orleans was putting people at risk.

      Joce: You watch these people, what goes through your mind when they're in those intersections?

      Becky Mowbray: I worry about their safety.

      In the past 3 years, 40 Pedestrians have been killed in New Orleans. To compare with two cities of similar size: Cleveland had 11 pedestrian deaths in that time. Minneapolis had 6. New Orleans isn't unique in its pedestrian problem. It sits with Tampa, New York, Atlanta, and 22 other cities on a federal government watch list.

      Jolie Lemoine: He accelerated and hit me on the hip, I fell forward and down and then he proceeded to run over my foot.

      Jolie Lemoine was hit by a car last year at this intersection near New Orleans city park. Traffic comes from 13 lanes in five different directions. You won't find a single pedestrian crossing light here. Just outlined crossing lanes that have faded with age.

      You do this with some hesitation now at this intersection?

      Jolie Lemoine: Absolutely. Well, you just don't know if someone's not using their blinker how do you know if they're going to turn or not. It's not worth it to me it's not worth it anymore to take that risk. It's a guessing game.

      Lemoine's guess landed her in rehab for eight months with a serious hip injury. Now, she's an advocate for pedestrian safety.

      Jolie Lemoine: You hear the story over and over and over. It just seems like eventually something would resonate with lawmakers and they would see some of these key intersections where they could improve the signage.

      So why is New Orleans different? It all stems from a rule dating back at least 30 years that only allows crossings at intersections where traffic could be stopped in all directions.

      Nadiene Van Dyke: This was an informal policy, an unwritten policy so in large part it had never been questioned.

      Joce: No one raised the alarm?

      Nadiene Van Dyke: No one knew except for the people enforcing this unwritten policy.

      Nadiene Van Dyke is the city's assistant inspector general. They're calling for New Orleans to move beyond its old ways, towards more science, and less intuition, or what she describes as the gut calls, of engineers.

      Nadiene Van Dyke: It is not the recommended method. It is absolutely not what we would hope for.

      Other cities are using modern methods to protect pedestrians - analyzing data and highlighting the problem. New York and DC both adopted a progressive program called vision zero - aimed at eliminating deaths.

      Joce: If New York looks at it as a design problem to have accidents like this, how does New Orleans look at it?

      Becky Mowbray: I think they don't.

      New Orleans has only discussed Vision Zero. Last spring the city began a project adding countdown timers to some crossing signals. The Federal Highway Administration found they could cut the number of accidents involving pedestrians by 25 percent. But many of those signals are still covered in burlap bags and only 44 spots in the city will get the upgrade.

      Rox'E Homstad: How many of us are going to have to die before someone decides enough is enough and we have to do something?

      Rox'E Homstad is both blind and deaf. She says her service dog saved her life as she tried to cross a street without a signal. Even with upgrades, there are no plans for crosswalk signals with sound or vibration to alert the disabled.

      Rox'E Homstad: This is important. These are peoples' lives. This is peoples' livelihoods. We are taxpayers. We deserve equal treatment.