The Heights

Memphis pedestrian deaths sit at record high; art installation urges drivers to slow down

[Author Leigh Tatum is a resident of Highland Heights and a High Ground News Community Correspondent. Correspondents are everyday people trained in the basics of neighborhood-based reporting who have deep roots to the communities they cover.]
 
"...one of the main goals is to show that these are real, unique people with uniqueness and beauty and it became crucial that they have their own unique artistic display."
—artist Collin Kidder. 
In 2020, drivers in Shelby County killed more pedestrians than any previous year. This month, a public art installation is memorializing the victims and imploring the public to share the road.  
 
Sixty-four life-size, plastic silhouettes display individualized, colorful designs along with the first name of a pedestrian who was killed by a driver in Shelby County in 2020. They are in the shape of the walking person seen in crosswalk signals. 

“A short way into the project, it occurred to me that one of the main goals is to show that these are real, unique people with uniqueness and beauty and it became crucial that they have their own unique artistic display," said project designer and local artist Collin Kidder. 

The project, titled “Naming,” shows these figures as if they are walking across the median of National Street between Summer Avenue and Powell Avenue. It is a temporary display and will be on exhibit through the month of July.

Memphis is the third most dangerous city for pedestrians in the country according to Smart Growth America’s Deadly by Design report, which analyzes federally reported crash data. They see roadway design that promotes speed over safety as a primary cause of deadly outcomes. 
  
"I hope people driving by "Naming" are intrigued and want to know more and that it will make an impact.  I really hope that some of the family members or loved ones can find out and that it may touch them in some way," said Kidder.

The Heights Community Development Corporation (Heights CDC) commissioned Kidder, who is also a  Heights resident, to design and create the installation. 

Kidder said he was particularly excited for this project because he's wanted to do more community-center projects that build people up and have a purpose beyond art for arts sake.  

Kidder is known for his “Raised River” sculpture installed on the Wolf River Greenway in 2016 and “Beacon,” which is his co-creation with Elisha Gould displayed on Cleveland Street across from Crosstown Concourse since 2012.

For “Raised River,” pedestrians traveling the Greenway pass under waves of steel that are 100 feet long and 16 feet tall near Walnut Grove and Humphreys Boulevard.  “Beacon” uses spinning bicycle wheels that loosely mimic a disco ball. 
Collin Kidder's "Naming" installation commemorates the lives lost to vehicle strikes with individualized, life-sized cut outs that each display a unique design and a victim's name. (Submitted)
Who Gets Hit?
According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Shelby County had 474 accidents involving pedestrians in 2020 and 65 pedestrian deaths. This is a 71% increase over the 38 pedestrian fatalities in 2019 and a 400% increase over pedestrian deaths in 2010.
 
The danger is not equal to all persons and communities.

Compared to white, non-Hispanic Americans, Black people were 82% more likely to be killed by drivers while walking in the last decade. Older persons and people walking in low-income communities were also more likely to be victims in fatal crashes. 
 
In addition the report notes that these numbers hold true even when controlling for differences in population size and walking rates.

The Heights CDC hosted a BLDG Memphis book club event on July 1 to raise awareness of the issues around pedestrian strikes. The topic of discussion was “Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America” by Angie Schmitt.  
 
In a June 21 Facebook post promoting the event, BLDG Memphis stressed that pedestrian deaths are not random or unavoidable, but are "...highly predictable events that tell a story about systemic inequalities." 
The "Naming" installation will be on display in the month of July on National Street between Summer and Powell avenues. (Submitted)
Heights CDC Pushes to Protect Pedestrians
This is not Heights CDC's first time transforming the National Street median with a focus on pedestrians and cyclists.
 
In October 2017, they gave the same stretch of National a whole new look and shape for the month. They expanded the median with temporary barriers and filled it with park benches, planters, hammocks and games. The goal was to promote community gathering and non-vehicle transportation while slowing traffic by narrowing the street from four to two lanes. 
 
The Heights CDC has since worked to raise funds and collaborate with the City of Memphis to turn this temporary redesign into a permanent Heights Line. When complete, the Heights Line will be a linear park with expanded median, paved pedestrian path, and fewer driving lanes between Summer and Bayliss Avenue. 

In January 2021, the City of Memphis included the Heights Line in its Accelerate Neighborhoods Plan and committed $4 million to the project. 
 
“The Heights Line will reduce pedestrian cross times. Now there are four lanes of traffic. If we reduce that to two lanes, it reduces the crossing time for pedestrians and this is a critical measure used to improve safety," said Dane Forlines, Heights CDC's special projects director.
 
“The Heights Line is providing a space protected for pedestrians and cyclists. By redesigning the configuration of National Street, drivers will slow down," he added.
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