Dangerous Streets Ring the Suburbs

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Neighborhoods designed to be quiet and free from traffic aren’t as safe as you might think. That’s according to Wesley Marshall. He’s a civil engineering professor at UC-Denver. Marshall says neighborhoods that don’t have many through streets are often flanked by big, fast, busy thoroughfares. He finds that they box people in. And, in a new study, he shows there are alarming numbers of deadly accidents on these kinds of street grids. Ryan Warner talks with Marshall in a moment. First let’s illustrate the forces at play. Joining us is CPR’s Zachary Barr...

Reporter Zachary Barr: This story takes in place in Stapleton, a neighborhood in east Denver. And, more specifically, in Sophia Briegleb’s home. It’s eight in the morning and the family is getting ready for the day.

Six-year-old Alex Briegleb: There are two snacks. Here is my lunch. Mr Pencil, got it as a prize. Outta here.

Reporter: Six-year old Alex Briegleb puts on his backpack. A moment later, he and his mother are out the door. They start their walk to Alex’s school, Swigert-McAuliffe. It’s is three-quarters of a mile away. Sophia says she chose this neighborhood because it’s walkable.

Sophia Briegleb: Our family in general just really appreciates walking and biking and trying not to drive as much as possible. in this neighborhood it's especially easy to do.

Reporter: Sophia and Alex walk along 35th Avenue. This street has no outlet so it’s used just by people who live in Stapleton.

Sophia Briegleb: This is the best part of the walk right here. With the parks, and you can see that it’s a lot of greenery and distance between you and the vehicles.

Reporter: Coming up is Central Park Boulevard. Sophia says the busy road is jammed with careless drivers who don’t look out for pedestrians. Last year, a vehicle on this same road caused a horrific accident.

9News archival tape: We have some breaking news to bring you. A pregnant woman was hit by a car in Denver this evening, and police are searching for the driver. It happened around 5 tonight near East 29th Avenue and Central Park Boulevard in the Stapleton neighborhood.

Reporter: That’s from 9News. Laurie Gorham survived but her unborn son died. The hit and run shook the neighborhood -- and it sometimes enters Sophia’s mind as she approaches Central Park Boulevard. She readies Alex at the corner and waits for the walk signal.

Sophia Briegleb: The walk signal is just barely long enough for the children to get all the way across. So we wait until we’re all here in a group, and then, OK, Alex, do you see it? OK.

Reporter: Cars and trucks stand still as the two cross the intersection.

Alex Briegleb: The cars here are just kinda rude. They don’t really pay attention.

Reporter: Other parents want to walk with their kids to school -- but find this intersection too treacherous. Kelley Proctor is among them. She says for one, drivers don’t look out for pedestrians.

Kelley Proctor: And then, also, the crosswalk is a long crosswalk , and I’m pushing a stroller with a 2-year-old, and trying to watch my 5-year old, and it just gets to be a little too nerve-racking for me.

Reporter: So to avoid Central Park Boulevard -- and still get a morning walk in -- Kelley and her children go out of their way.

Proctor: We walk about eight blocks to the east to catch the bus and the school is eight blocks west of our house.

Reporter: Kelley says her family walks the wrong way to the bus stop because it’s safer -- and because Central Park Blvd is about to become busier. The road will soon be connected to I-70 and 270, bringing more cars into her neighborhood. I’m Zachary Barr, Colorado Public Radio News

Colorado Matters Host Ryan Warner: Zac’s story is an example of how a quiet neighborhood can be really busy on its edges. This layout leads to more serious accidents, says Wesley Marshall a civil engineering professor at UC-Denver. He’s compared traffic accident data from neighborhoods like Stapleton to ones with an old-fashioned north-south street grid, with lots of through streets.

[Photo: Flickr user Scorpions & Centaurs]