Jennifer Canter, the Executive Director of St. Anne’s Center, a homeless shelter on Wall Avenue in Ogden, UT, says that when she hears a loud screeching of brakes, she knows where it is coming from. Over the years, the busy intersection at Wall and Binford Street has been where many of her clients have been struck by motorists. Since 2009, the city police have been called to at least seven accidents involving pedestrians, five of which were fatal.
Tiffany Phipps, a 32-year-old, was struck by a Jeep at the intersection and died of trauma to the head at McKay-Dee Hospital. Her mother, Holly Wood, filed a civil suit against the city and state claiming the crosswalk is inadequate in alerting drivers of the potential presence of pedestrians at the crosswalk. Alcohol and speeding were not factors in the incident.
A crosswalk was implemented in 2013, to better serve many homeless, such as Phipps, yet it has not proven to be very effective. The suit, which seeks an unknown amount of damages, alleges that the city of Ogden and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), which oversaw the construction, have since laid plans to implement better lighting and use LED warning signs. Government lawyers feel there is a lack of evidence indicating that the intersection is dangerous.
The 2nd District Court recently ordered a dismissal of the suit based on the Governmental Immunity Act that shields the city and state from suits seeking damages. In addition, the court stated that the “public duty doctrine” protects the government for breaches of duty owed to the general public. An exception exists to the public duty doctrine if it can be determined that a “special” relationship exists between the individual and the public entity. An attorney for the plaintiff said the doctrine does not apply and they will “absolutely” appeal.
Some of the progress made at the intersection includes white lines painted, implementation of yellow warning signs in both directions, and yellow signs indicating the possible presence of pedestrians. The overhead lighting and flashing lights have now also been added. Kevin Cottrell, of the Ogden Police Department, says that many of the pedestrian incidents have arisen from crossing outside of the marked crosswalks.
Drivers are typically ruled to be at fault when pedestrians are hit within the proper crossing area. According to Vic Saunders, a UDOT spokesperson, the department has no additional plans for the intersection. Wood describes the crosswalk as simply a “false sense of security” for pedestrians, and feels it should be treated similarly to a school zone. Cottrell explained that some drivers simply do not pay attention to the signals; however, a speed reduction to 40 miles per hour is helping matters, and law enforcement is continuing to issue citations for violators.