Crosswalk improvements address needed safety upgrades

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Crosswalks at the entrance to the Yacht Cove community, near where a child was killed in 2018, have been upgraded and improved with marked pathways. Lighting will be installed at the site in the next months. DEAN ROWLAND

Residents and tourists all over the island walk, jog and bicycle on the 64 miles of public and 50 miles of private pathways.

They're safe most of the time. Sometimes they're not.

In each of the three years from 2016 to 2018, three pedestrian or bicycle fatalities involving vehicles occurred, according to the Town of Hilton Head. From October 2017 to August 2019, the Beaufort County sheriff's Office responded to seven pedestrian and 18 bicycle accidents at crosswalks, according to its data.

Many were on or adjacent to William Hilton Parkway.

But it was perhaps the death of Charli Bobinchuck, an 11-year-old animal lover who was killed by a vehicle in an unlit, basically unmarked crosswalk at the intersection of Yacht Cove Drive and U.S. 278 in June last year while walking her dog, that spurred a call to action by the town.

Her father, Bryan Bobinchuck, has been a vocal advocate for change and safety improvements in crosswalks ever since.

The town responded and initiated a proactive campaign to enhance crosswalk markings, signage and nighttime illumination.

"We want our residents and citizens to be safe as they cross the highway, so we have made improvements that we hope drivers, pedestrians and cyclists will heed," wrote Scott Liggett, director of Public Projects and Facilities, in a town newsletter. "Another important part of pedestrian safety is simply being aware of your surroundings. Drivers need to be aware of pedestrians and rules of the road. Likewise, pedestrians and bicyclists need to watch out for vehicles. When it comes down to it, road safety is a two-way street."

Liggett noted one particular scenario that is potentially very dangerous.

"Motorists should not stop and invite pedestrians and bicyclists to step into the street" if they are on the side of the road waiting to cross, Liggett said, adding that it is incumbent on motorists to slow or stop to yield to pedestrians who are already in the crosswalk, however.

He also suggests that bicyclists walk their bikes across designated crosswalks.

The town has installed new signs, permanent text markings ("PED" and "XING" preceding the crosswalks) and reflective strips on signposts and the tops of concrete curbing at 11 crosswalks on U.S. 278 that do not have traffic signals.

It also is implementing a pilot street lighting project at the site of Bobinchuck's death that will install seven overhead light fixtures with flat, low-profile lamps with LED bulbs with dark fiberglass-composite material poles. The bid for the lighting project is expected to be let soon, Liggett said.

The 11 unsignalized crosswalks on U.S. 278 receiving safety upgrades are:

• Fresh Market Shoppes near Legendary Golf

• Regency Drive near Red Roof Inn and Stack's Pancakes

• Yacht Cove Drive

• Chamber of Commerce Drive

• Shelter Cove Plaza near Whole Foods (will be signalized this winter)

• Shelter Cove Lane near the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office (will be signalized this winter)

• Burkes Beach Road near Sherwin-Williams

• Northridge Drive near Stein Mart and Sunoco

• Palmetto Parkway near Station One and The Oaks

• Central Avenue near Festival Centre at Indigo Park and Walmart

• Old Wild Horse Road near Old School House Park

Bicycles are considered vehicles by South Carolina traffic laws, and users must be aware and diligent of the laws. More than 70 percent of bicycle vs. vehicle crashes occur at driveways or intersections.

The Town has earned gold-level designation from the League of American Cyclists as a "bicycle friendly" community for the past two years. Still, communications director Carolyn Grant recommends that all those who bike, walk and drive our roads visit the town's website for safety tips. Go to hiltonheadislandsc.gov, click on "publications" at the top of the page, click on "newsletters" and then "Spring 2019."

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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