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Pedestrians at greater risk of death in poorer neighborhoods

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Walking in Memphis has a new meaning depending on where you live. In certain poor neighborhoods, pedestrians are in a battle with vehicles, and they are losing.

In certain parts of Memphis, pedestrians and drivers don't mix. There are areas where it can turn downright deadly.

Governing Magazine says across the country there are about 5,000 pedestrians killed every year, and poorer neighborhoods are hit the hardest.

Nicholas Oyler with the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization says the organization identifies troubled intersections and recommends changes.

He says there are plenty of reasons why poorer neighborhoods have more problems.

"Individuals with low-income may not be able to afford a car, may not be able to afford gas for a car on a regular basis.  So they have to turn to walking in many cases to get to work or school," Oyler said.

He says those who do walk are more likely to do so in the most dangerous times of the day, around 5 a.m. or after the late shift at 10 p.m.

In Memphis, those problem areas include South Memphis' Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Avenue.

"Of course it is dangerous walking, especially with it being so hot. People don't pay attention to traffic as it flows," Vanchez Branch, a frequent South Memphis walker, said.

North Memphis' Jackson Avenue at Interstate 240 is another busy thoroughfare, where walkers headed to nearby stores must fight with vehicles entering and exiting the interstate.

"Depends on where you are. If you are in a nice neighborhood you don't have to worry about that, but if you are in the hood, yeah you have to worry about that a lot," Rusty Phillips, who frequently walks in the area, said.

With more lanes and cars going faster, it can be deadly.

"When a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle that is traveling less than 20 miles per hour, there is a 90 percent chance of survival. At 40 miles per hour, that drops to 10 percent," Oyler said.

The planning organization and the city are taking steps to make the trouble spots safer by prominently marking crosswalks like those on Mississippi Boulevard.

"There is paint on the streets that narrows the lanes as they approach the intersection, so vehicles are no longer able to drive in these painted areas," Oyler said.

It slows down vehicles and decreases the distance pedestrians must walk to cross the street.

On the way, look for additional center islands like the ones on Harbor Town and Overton Square. They will be in places like the front of the Memphis Library on Poplar.

"He or she can wait on the median, wait for traffic on the other half of the road to clear then continue across," Oyler said.

That's crucial because an important part of where you live is how safely you can get to where you want to go.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization is creating a new four-year plan to improve all forms of transportation in the Memphis region. That will also include educating pedestrians, drivers, and bikers about rules of the road.

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