Why not here?

Oakland Avenue is busy with drivers and pedestrians as students crisscross the Winthrop University campus.
Oakland Avenue is busy with drivers and pedestrians as students crisscross the Winthrop University campus.

Making their way toward classes one afternoon last week, a flock of Winthrop University students stopped to answer a question about why they had just cut across Oakland Avenue without using a crosswalk.

"I'm not used to pressing the button and waiting," explained a sophomore named Linda, who didn't want her last name used for fear of getting into trouble. "If I don't see a car coming fast enough to hit me, I just cross."

"Or you run," added Lisa Patel, a freshman walking with her.

The routine is familiar -- students flood Oakland during the daily shuffle between classes. But their habits and those of other pedestrians around Rock Hill burst into the spotlight last week when the City Council passed a ban on jaywalking in downtown.

It's now the only place where the practice is illegal; the city code doesn't outlaw random street crossings anywhere else, including at Winthrop.

"We're proposing it for the downtown area," City Manager Carey Smith said, "because we think that's where the threat to public safety is the greatest."

A review of pedestrian-related accidents over the past two years suggests otherwise. Rock Hill police figures show 74 collisions involving walkers have been reported since September 2005, and none occurred in the three-block area where the new rule will apply.

Now, some are questioning why the same fears over safety aren't extending to other parts of town, particularly busy thoroughfares where walkers and school children are common.

Mayor Doug Echols said he hasn't seen the accident figures. But Echols, who voted for the downtown ban, added that he plans to take a closer look at jaywalking citywide.

"We'll look at those numbers, see what they say," he said. "Don't know what kind of judgment to make about them. We'll just have to take a look."

What about other roads?

The new policy grew out of the need to help a highly-anticipated Main Street restaurant get a liquor license.

If state inspectors measure the distance between the restaurant and Freedom Temple Ministries using a crosswalk, which is now the legal path, the added distance would put the restaurant just above the 300-foot separation required by state law.

Although the restaurant figured in, supporters emphasize that keeping downtown safe is their long-term goal. As more people visit, the city worries about walkers darting out from behind parked cars -- where drivers can't see them. The hope is that being proactive will prevent future mishaps.

But debate over the rule has opened up a larger question: Why not act to make other roads safer, too?

"If you're going to call it a safety issue, let's look at the whole area," Rock Hill school board member Walter Brown said. "I could see it leading to jaywalking rules all up and down Oakland Avenue, probably on Cherry Road, in and around the (District Three) stadium. You can't just look at three blocks."

No accidents involving pedestrians have been reported on Oakland in at least two years, but waves of students cross each class day. School administrators pointed out last week that with the campus shifting westward, fewer will need to use the four-lane road in the future.

In the meantime, they say the possibility of a new law hasn't been brought up.

A closer look at danger spots

Walkers on other roads haven't been as fortunate as those on Oakland.

• Five accidents involving pedestrians have occurred in the past two years on Cherry Road, including one in March near the Ebinport Road intersection, where Sullivan Middle School is located.

Last fall, the school assigned football coach Tim Warner to supervise the crosswalk as students pour out in the afternoon. About 300 students walk because they live too close to qualify for bus service.

"Sometimes, they'll come down, and once they get behind those trees, they'll dart through traffic," Warner said, pointing up the street. "If I catch who it is, I tell them the next day, 'That's dangerous.'"

Bob Heath, the principal at Sullivan, said he would welcome help from the police but knows officers have plenty of other duties.

"We've had a couple of little bumps here and there, but we've never had an injury," Heath said. "You just have to say your prayers daily."

• Across town in front of the Rock Hill Galleria, Vee Ross watches nightly as groups of teenagers leave the mall and cross Dave Lyle Boulevard on their way to a nearby apartment complex.

Five pedestrian-related collisions have been reported on the 2300 block of Dave Lyle around the mall, figures show.

"That's not too bad considering as many (walkers) as I see," said Ross, a cashier at the nearby BP gas station. "They just walk across everywhere. They're leisurely walking, not in a rush at all."

Raising public awareness

Echols said the best way to address jaywalking citywide might not be a new law. Instead, he called for more educational programs stressing the need for pedestrians to walk only at crosswalks and traffic lights.

"Maybe your article will encourage them to do so," he said.

He added: "Our hope would be that people would always use crosswalks. Obviously from looking at the police reports, there are some spots where people do get injured if they're not careful."

Back at Winthrop last week, another group of students emptied from their classrooms and headed toward Oakland Avenue.

"If you look and you have good judgment about it, and you're not slow, you won't get hit," said student Holly Shady, who said she cuts across "a lot" to save time.

Before she continued on, the sophomore turned around with a question: "We're not supposed to do that, are we?"