With a green light and a walk signal, Wilma Goehring tried to stroll across Mount Rushmore Road last week.
Despite the all-safe signs, the 57-year-old Belle Fourche resident was anything but safe as she tried to cross a busy street in Rapid City, which a state study this month showed has a high rate of pedestrian injuries and local police say has recently averaged about one pedestrian fatality a year.
As she walked, Goehring was suddenly struck by the driver of a Chevy who was turning onto Mount Rushmore Road from Main Street. Goehring was taken to the hospital with minor injuries; the driver, 48-year-old Derrick Jackson-Ratliff of Rapid City, was cited with failure to yield to a pedestrian, according to police.
"We can't quite put our finger on it, but it just seems that Rapid City is just not as pedestrian-friendly as other communities," said Rapid City Police Capt. Dan Rud.
A state study supports Rud's conclusion. The 10-year study by the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety showed that the statewide average for pedestrian-related injuries was 13 people per 100,000 during that time period. In Rapid City, however, the number of pedestrian injuries was more than double that, with 30 people injured per 100,000 population.
Rud said that over the past five years, five pedestrians have been killed in Rapid City. Rapid City police last year responded to 18 pedestrian accidents with injuries. Rud said many more pedestrian accidents occurred last year, but without injuries.
The state study did not examine why more pedestrians are struck here, but Rud speculates that a combination of a busy tourist season, a high number of bicycles and pedestrians moving around downtown, and driver inattention all play a role.
Now, police are trying to improve safety for pedestrians. This summer, the police department is launching a pedestrian safety campaign with a grant of $40,000 from the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety, Rud said.
"The purpose of the campaign is to educate pedestrians and motorists, pedestrians especially," Rud said. "Human bodies don't match a 2,000-pound car, so pedestrians need to be aware of their surroundings."
Rud said the campaign will involve public education through TV and radio ads, along with messages on billboards and through social media. He said the campaign will end around Labor Day.
"It's the timing of the summer. We're getting to see a lot more people out walking, a lot more bicyclists and kids walking to the store, or people out for an evening stroll," Rud said. "There's a lot more foot traffic."
Motorists need to be aware that during summer months, more bicyclists and pedestrians are on the streets, Rud said. Bicyclists and pedestrians should always use crosswalks and use their best judgement when crossing the street, he said.
"If a pedestrian has a crosswalk in front of them, (drivers) have to yield. If a pedestrian has a walk light at a traffic light, (drivers) have to yield to a pedestrian," Rud said. But he added that pedestrians also need to be aware. “Some accidents, it’s not always the driver that’s at fault, it’s the pedestrian."
Police will also increase patrols at intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic this summer, Rud said. Patrols will be stationed to monitor not only drivers, but also pedestrians, he said.
People on the streets in Rapid City last week confirmed that downtown especially can be dicey for pedestrians.
Standing among a crowd of pedestrians patiently waiting to cross Main Street during Summer Nights on Thursday, 69-year-old Ervin Berg stated the obvious: that a pedestrian versus vehicle is not a fair fight.
Berg said people need to keep their wits about them, both walkers and drivers, but especially drivers.
"I'm a firm believer in the Darwinian theory; if these idiots want to walk across the street in the middle of traffic and a green light, they're going to get what they get," Berg said.
John Ashley, who owns Mickey's Hot Dogs at the corner of Main and 6th streets, said he sees near-misses between cars and people every day.
"Drivers don't look and walkers don't look, so that makes a bad combo," Ashley said.