Safety arises as key point in downtown Tupelo project

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association has proposed changes that it says are geared toward making the district safer for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.
Yet a representative from the Tupelo Police Department says the plan may result in more pedestrian accidents.
When plans were initially unveiled last year, much of the emphasis of the project was to make downtown a destination for shoppers, diners and tourists, as well as making it more pedestrian-friendly.
The proposal calls for sidewalk beautification, light synchronization, pedestrian amenities and the three-laning of a section of Main Street to include bike lanes, auto lanes, a center turn lane and on-street parallel parking.
But this month the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association has been emphasizing the safety aspects of the Main Street improvement project.
Members of the organization said pedestrians in the downtown area have been hit by vehicles or had close calls. Members also said cars get rear-ended frequently downtown while waiting to turn left.
Main Street members said the added pedestrian amenities, such as better crosswalks and a safety zone created by a bike lane, will keep walkers safer downtown.
However, Capt. Mark Miller of the Tupelo Police Department said the numbers don’t support the claims of a dangerous downtown. According to his records, rear-end collisions don’t happen downtown any more frequently than anywhere else in town.
Miller said Tupelo in 2009 had four pedestrians hit by vehicles. One of the four was downtown, and it came at Commerce and East Troy streets during a parade.
Miller said he doesn’t recall any pedestrians being hit by vehicles on Main Street in downtown, but reports aren’t filed for every incident.
Yet, Miller said he could see the downtown business strip becoming more dangerous to pedestrians if it continues to grow in popularity.
“Downtown’s like anywhere else,” Miller said. “If you increase the pedestrian traffic, the potential for an auto collision also increases. It’s sheer volume … The more pedestrians you have on a street, the more likely they are to be hit by a car.”
Main Street Executive Director Debbie Brangenberg said Monday she also sees how the possibility for accidents would go up, but she hopes to combat it.
“I would hope that we would have slowed the traffic,” she said. “This is not like Coley Road or McCullough Boulevard or West Main where you don’t have on-street parking. We’ve seen other communities where they have done this and it has made it a more pleasant environment.”
Brangenberg said she knows from experience that the downtown area can become safer for people who are walking.
She said at the end of last month, she tried to cross the street downtown.
“I got halfway across and the light turned green,” she said.
This happened multiple times throughout the day and she saw it happen to other people. She said she is especially concerned about people with visual impairments who are walking downtown.
“They cannot tell when the light changes,” Brangenberg said.
She said she already is looking into lengthening the time given at the crosswalks before the lights change.
She said she hopes the group will move forward with other parts of the plan, such as synchronized traffic lights, landscaping and pedestrian amenities, even if the road isn’t restriped, a part of the plan that has raised concerns from residents who use the major thoroughfare to get across town.
“We want to continue to see what our options are,” Brangenberg said. “We want to hear from people and work through our options.”