Students start call for bridge or tunnel after crosswalk fatality

By Cilicia Anderson

Outlook writer

Noelle Enright had seen so many close calls at one of the most dangerous crosswalks on West Tennessee Street that she wasn’t surprised to hear that 19-year-old Natalie Nickchen’s walk turned fatal.

That was vexing enough for Enright to begin a call for change that she hopes will prevent another fatality.

A bright yellow sign reminds drivers of the pedestrian traffic on West Tennessee Street.
Photo by Cilicia Anderson

Enright’s proactive stance has led her to start an on-line petition calling for an alternate way to cross the street. Specifically she and the thousands who have signed the petition would like to see the crosswalk replaced by a bridge or tunnel. 

As of last weekend, more than 14,000 people signed the petition; almost three times more than the 5,000 that she originally hoped would sign it.

“The easily preventable tragedy of Natalie’s death motivated me to start the petition,” said Enright. “I want to ensure something like this never happens again. I cross Tennessee Street every day and have a close call almost every time I cross”.

Enright is working with the FSU Senate to get the petition to the Mayor John Dailey in hopes that it will motivate the city to take action for a safer crossing path for students. 

In a statement released immediately after the accident, FSU President John Thrasher called it heartbreaking.

 “Any time we lose a young person at the beginning of a lifetime of promise, it is heartbreaking and profound,” Thrasher said. “Our prayers are with Natalie’s family and friends. I encourage anyone in our community struggling with this loss to reach out for assistance.”

Charges weren’t filed against 24-year-old Ivey Green, the driver involved in the accident after running a red light at the pedestrian crossing lane. She was issued the “appropriate citations,” said State Attorney Jack Campbell. He also said it is going to take some time to figure out if additional charges will be filed against Green.

Major changes were made in 2014 to the crosswalk where the accident occurred. Florida Department of Transportation resurfaced West Tennessee Street from Ocala Road to Monroe Street at the cost of $4.3 million. The project included raised medians and the installation of mid-block pedestrian crossings that were supposed to enhance turning lanes and other lane changes to reduce the left turns.

Despite the changes, students Sarah Schaefer, who walk to school from her homes near the campus, said having to use crosswalks is the most dangerous part of their day.

“I walk to class from the College Town area,” said Schaefer. “I use the flashing lights when crossing West St. Augustine Street and on average I’ve counted two to three cars passing before they stop for pedestrians. The lights are difficult to see sometimes and I feel that drivers don’t pay attention to them as much as they should.”

The danger of crossing streets around campus extends beyond Tennessee Street.

Less than a week after Nickchen was killed, another student, Miller Shelfler, was hit at a crosswalk on West St. Augustine Street. He was taken to a local hospital where he underwent surgery for a leg injury.

In many cases, students like Enright and her boyfriend, Chris Bernhardt, don’t have many options on the route they take to and from campus. They’re now at a point that they’ve become desperate for solutions.

“I use crosswalks every day to get to and from class,” said Bernhardt. “Everyday cars speed through turns in order to beat people walking but it gets dangerous and scary and usually involves squeezing between two cars. There is a difficulty with crossing busy streets every day. The wait times can be minutes and when you do get to walk, drivers are usually annoyed that they have to wait for you; and they don’t.

“The crosswalk that Natalie sadly passed away on is inherently dangerous, as well. The divider between both streets blocks the view of oncoming pedestrians and also makes it difficult for pedestrians to see any oncoming cars. The crosswalk seems like an after-thought in a town and area that is primarily pedestrian traffic.”

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