VOICES: We’re not waiting any longer for pedestrian safety changes

On any morning, you will find a tribe settled in for their morning coffee at Ghostlight Coffee on Wayne Avenue. We are, by this point, all on a first-name basis. It takes about 30 minutes daily to check in with each other before we set off for our various undertakings.

The large picture windows that sit at the corner of Clover and Wayne are a window on the world for us regulars. We see people biking, jogging, singing — you name it, there is something for everyone on Wayne Avenue.

On December 28, 2022, I arrived earlier than usual. I beat my three friends to the café and ordered drinks for all of us. I grabbed our favorite comfortable area and sat so I could, once again, look out onto life on the Avenue.

Stories, laughs, an occasional cough interrupted the silence. My eyes went to a woman and her dog on the corner of Clover and Wayne waiting patiently for the light to change so she could make her way across the street. Waiting as she had done dozens of times before. That crosswalk was always in question by the “Ghostlight Gang.” It seemed too close to the road and the angle of the crosswalk made it hard to see up the street.

Later I learned the woman’s name was Jennifer Johnson. Like her, you take your safety for granted. You are assured, no matter what light you wait at, all is well. My eyes went to Jennifer and her dog patiently waiting.

The first thing I heard was ‘OH MY GOD… OH MY GOD… she’s been hit!’

I saw her in the road and where she had stood was a vehicle with a man partially thrust through his windshield.

“Let’s go!” Someone yelled. “She needs help!”

Among the Ghostlight Gang is a doctor and that morning a nurse was also present. There were kids and parents all looking out of the same window where, moments ago, Jennifer had been waiting patiently.

A group of us ran outside. A gentleman quickly explained to me how to assist her. He knew CPR and needed my help. But he and I both knew there was no hope. There were voices of folks around us:

“Grab the dog.”

“My God, help the guy in the car.”

“Is she alive?”

I looked at her and back at the window. There were the folks I share coffee with every morning looking out. When the police arrived — and they were very quick — an officer said, “Sir, you can move away.”

“She’s gone,” I said to him. “She was there with her dog. She just wanted to get across Wayne.”

“Sir, please move away.”

I moved back and felt a surreal anger and frustration: We knew it was dangerous! Speeding cars, trucks flying by, drivers trying to make it through that yellow light – it’s all too dangerous.

And in that moment, I thought: We shouldn’t be waiting so patiently to make things safer for our neighbors.

I will never forget that day. I’ll never forget Jennifer and her dog. I know our street can be designed differently to be safer.

That is why I am a member of the newly formed Wayne Ave. Traffic Safety Coalition. The Coalition was formed in response to the death of Jennifer and the other senseless crashes along Wayne Ave. The Coalition’s goal is to call on the City of Dayton to lower the speed limit from 35 to 25 on Wayne and make infrastructure improvements to the street that will naturally slow down traffic. The Coalition is made up of more than 20 other neighborhood associations, local businesses and partner agencies who want to see a safer, slower street for the neighborhoods along Wayne Ave.

After the death of Jennifer and other serious crashes, a mobile speed enforcement unit was installed at Park Drive. The unit recorded nearly 20,845 speed violations during a 92-day period this past spring. Tickets were only issued to drivers exceeding 13 mph above the speed limit. This means many of those violators were traveling at nearly 50 mph. A AAA traffic safety study found that the average risk of death for pedestrians hit by a vehicle traveling at 50 mph is 75%. That is a risk we can take no longer.

Members of our Coalition went to City Commission last week to ask the City to fund a “complete streets” project on Wayne Ave. I share my story to add to the sense of urgency. We’re not waiting patiently any longer for change to come.

Joshua Stucky is a community and human rights activist. He is a founder of the RubiGirls, Proprietor of Square One Salons and a professor at Wright State University.

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