St. Louisans search for solutions as drivers keep killing pedestrians
Ever since a speeding motorist killed Tiffanie Stanfield’s sister while she was in a St. Louis crosswalk in April 2016, Stanfield has been calling for an end to such traffic violence. She even started the organization Fighting H.A.R.D to raise awareness about hit-and-run driving and provide resources to those affected by the issue.
But after years of pushing for change, Stanfield has felt deep discouragement lately. She told St. Louis on the Air this week that her message all too often appears to not be getting through.
A recent spike in deaths is the latest stark evidence of the lack of progress: StreetsBlog USA reported Thursday that 10 pedestrians have lost their lives on city streets in just 11 weeks.
“We know the statistics. We know the numbers. But for me, not only do I know it from a personal perspective, but I speak to these families,” Stanfield told host Sarah Fenske on Friday’s show. “I know their stories … beyond the story.”
Stanfield hasn’t given up. A member of the city’s Community Mobility Committee, she’s also working on a short film about hit-and-run driving that she hopes will provide a more visceral sense of the epidemic of pedestrian deaths and offer hope for a way forward.
And she’s not the only St. Louisan continuing to call for change. Xandi Barrett, who earned a master’s degree in social work from Washington University earlier this year, has a passion for the built environment. And as part of a practicum toward her degree, she recently compiled a media toolkit, aimed at spurring better reporting on pedestrian deaths, on behalf of the mobility committee.
“A lot of the reporting treats these as isolated incidents, so this toolkit was hoping to really highlight the frequency of the issue, how to change a word choice and really just make it so that people in our community understand that it is an epidemic and not just one-off incidents and accidents,” she said.
Barrett offered an example of how specific words and phrases used in a media report can make a difference.
“Something as simple as saying, ‘A person driving a pickup truck hit a pedestrian,’ instead of, ‘A pickup truck hit a pedestrian’ — it really puts it in a human perspective,” she explained.
Another issue affecting the public’s understanding of the crisis, Stanfield said, is where these crashes and tragedies most often occur.
“When you’re dealing with pedestrian safety in underserved neighborhoods comparable to pedestrian safety in affluent neighborhoods, there is a difference in how it’s reported, what is reported and the specifics of what’s being reported,” she said. “Sometimes if it’s a little Black girl or little Black boy that is being reported, it’s just reported as such.” Victims in affluent neighborhoods seem to get a lot more attention.
Last week, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department noted that of the more than 250 fatal crashes in the city since 2018, 65 have involved pedestrians. The police department pointed to speed as the biggest contributing factor. Department leaders announced a commitment to increased traffic enforcement, with a focus on the city’s most crash-prone intersections.
Stanfield said she has lingering questions about the enforcement push.
“Will it continue?” she asked. “Will it just kind of be in the moment because we’re highlighting these hit-and-run fatalities? … Is it something that’s gonna happen today and then kind of fade away later?”
The on-air conversation also touched on how victims are frequently blamed for being hit. Media coverage often notes that someone wasn’t in a crosswalk, when under Missouri law, pedestrians have the right of way on any street with sidewalks on both sides. What we think of as crosswalks are simply marked crosswalks.
“This is a really personal topic for me. I don’t have a car, and so I get around by bike and by transit,” Barrett said. “And multiple times [I] have been dropped off by a bus at an intersection and there’s no safe place for me to get across the street. It could be that the next intersection is a half a mile down the road.”
Many listeners joined the discussion via Twitter and St. Louis on the Air’s Facebook group.
“Challenge car centrism and supremacy when you see and hear it,” wrote a listener named O’d. “People were on the street first, and we belong there. … It’s not OK to text and drive. It's unsafe to go as fast as you can.”
O’d added: “If you think Black lives matter, drive like it. … The best way to become a good motorist is to walk, bike, and bus commutes you often drive. Once you know what it’s like to be on the outside of the car, your behavior will change without you even thinking about it.”
Producer’s note: The St. Louis City Community Mobility Committee recommends the following resources related to traffic violence: Trailnet, Great Rivers Greenway, Fighting H.A.R.D and Vision Zero.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.