Twice, Jennifer Santoro said, she was pushing her toddler in a stroller when a car screeched around the corner, nearly speeding into mother and daughter in the middle of a crosswalk.
The 34-year-old’s terrifying close calls happened at the intersection of Valley Road and Lancaster Avenue in Paoli along a busy Chester County thoroughfare lined with shops and restaurants, car dealerships and churches, and within walking distance of bucolic Main Line neighborhoods.
And she’s not alone.
“I’ve witnessed many close-to-accidents," she said.
On April 15, an 80-year-old man was killed in the same crosswalk. Tredyffrin Township police declined to comment on the death, citing an ongoing investigation.
It was one of three pedestrian fatalities to occur in Chester County over a five-day period, and one of two that occurred within three miles. The first was on April 11 on the 800 block of King Road. The second happened the next morning, 20 miles away on Lincoln Highway in Caln Township.
Nationally, more than 6,200 pedestrians were killed in 2018, marking the most fatalities since 1990, according to a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which gathers data from highway safety offices in all 50 states. Pennsylvania saw a more than 40 percent increase, according to the report.
The author, Richard Retting, notes the uptick could be attributed to a number of factors, including more people walking to work, more motorists speeding or being distracted, and more people driving SUVs, which can cause more serious injuries than sedans.
In Chester County, the deadly crashes reignited conversations about pedestrian safety in communities such as Malvern and Paoli, where residents enjoy walking, running, and doing other outdoor exercise in their scenic surroundings.
Yet those surroundings aren’t always friendly to those on foot, residents say, with some neighborhoods lacking sidewalks or street lights, and distracted drivers speeding, texting, and ignoring street signs.
Neighbors exchanged stories of near-crashes on Facebook community forums, with one user writing: “I really wonder if safer roads are attainable. It’s so scary." Other residents said they called police and municipal officials to see if stronger safety measures could be put in place, particularly at problematic intersections or stretches of roadway.
Pedestrian safety has “always been a concern because we don’t have sidewalks,” said Susan Tighe, who lives off King Road in Malvern, near where a 32-year-old man was recently struck and killed while walking at night.
Statistically, Lt. Robert Klinger of the Willistown Township Police Department said pedestrians are seldom struck by vehicles, let alone injured or killed. Before his department responded to the King Road accident on April 11, officers hadn’t been called to such a crash since the fall, he said.
In this recent case, the man was walking westbound just after 8:30 p.m. with his back to traffic, either on the white line or in the lane, and was wearing dark clothing, Klinger said. The driver of the striking van stayed on the scene and cooperated with authorities.
While rare, these type of crashes cause pain for everyone involved. On one side, family and friends are left to grieve the death of loved ones. On the other, motorists must live with the knowledge that they took someone’s life, even if they weren’t at fault.
“The poor driver will never forget it,” Klinger said. “You can’t qualify what the driver will experience.”
Klinger said both drivers and pedestrians should try to be less distracted, put down their phones, and be aware of their surroundings. While residents voiced concern about the dangerous habits of drivers in their neighborhoods, Klinger stressed that walkers’ actions were equally important.
“Pedestrians need to follow the rules of the road, too,” he said, urging them to walk against traffic, wear bright-colored clothes, and carry flashlights or other lit objects.
Tighe, 55, who lives near Willistown in East Whiteland Township, walks often, occasionally at night. After dark, she said, she is extra vigilant, dangling a flashlight around her wrist to get the attention of passing motorists.
“Last night when I was walking — and I always walk facing the traffic — I could see as soon as they saw the flashlight they drifted to the center of the road,” she said.
After the two nearby accidents, Malvern Borough officials began mulling some sort of collaborative effort with surrounding townships to make both walkers and drivers safer, said borough manager Christopher Bashore. He and borough council members aren’t sure what that effort might look like just yet, but plan to take into account the residents’ concerns.
“Pedestrian safety has always been something that’s been at the forefront for borough council and the community,” Bashore said, “because Malvern’s a walkable community.”
During his more than three years as manager, Bashore said, roadway safety has been a consistent topic brought up by residents — and addressed by the borough with traffic studies and other initiatives. At two busy intersections in downtown Malvern, the borough soon plans to install pedestrian warning signals that flash, alerting drivers as soon as someone steps into the crosswalks, he said.
Oftentimes, residents request the installation of stop signs or sidewalks in areas outside the main downtown strip. However, it’s not always easy to add either. Sidewalks in particular require a long process of approvals — and they need maintenance after they’re installed, he said.
“Sidewalks are kind of like Wawas,” Bashore said. “Everyone wants them but not in their neighborhood.”
So for now, Bashore said, the borough council will brainstorm new ways they can improve safe walkability, adding, “We take pedestrian concerns very seriously.”