Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pedestrian death/Hillcrest bridge news and info roundup

(Hillcrest bridge photo by Jonathan Welch of Mountain Xpress)

A pedestrian was struck by a car and killed Wednesday as he attempted to cross 240 near the Smoky Park bridge.

Here's a photo, video and news roundup of what happened and what people in our community are saying about a young man's senseless death. Some background: a pedestrian bridge connecting the Hillcrest area and downtown would have allowed the man to cross safely, but was closed down 16 years ago.

According to a 1999 AC-T article quoted on Ashvegas, police sought the bridge's closure because, they said, suspects could slip out over it during drug raids.

The Swannanoa man killed, Anthony Ray Gilmore, was 25. He was not the first person to be killed crossing 240 in this area.

I believe I read that his father has since collected approximately 300 signatures requesting the re-opening of the Hillcrest pedestrian bridge -- can anyone verify?

Here's a roundup of articles, pictures and info.

Citizen-Times, June 17:
Man fatally struck near Smoky Park Bridge
Gilmore was running across the highway toward Hillcrest Apartments just west of the bridge around 9:30 p.m. when he was hit by 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier headed west in the far right lane, police said.

Gilmore was dead at the scene.
Ashvegas blog, June 17: In wake of pedestrian death on I-240 near Smoky Park Bridge, a question: Is pedestrian bridge open?
This isn't the first time a person has been struck and killed while trying to cross the highway at this location - generally just on the downtown side of the Smoky Park Bridge, where Patton Avenue turns into an interstate on-ramp, and where drivers exit to take the new I-26 north toward Weaverville.
Gordon Smith, Scrutiny Hooligans blog, June 17: Not To Be Repeated
I’m going to listen to neighborhood residents and the police department in order to make an informed decision, but my initial reaction is that we’ve got to give Hillcrest residents a direct route downtown.

We also need an I-26 Connector that will rejoin Hillcrest to downtown in a permanent and meaningful way. Isolating neighborhoods doesn’t make things better.

Ashvegas blog, June 18: There's no need for closed pedestrian bridge over I-240 in Asheville when people are dying
There's no need to keep Hillcrest cut off from the rest of the world any more than it already is. Surrounded by a tangle of interstate highway, there's only one way to drive in and out of the complex, and if police want to go after somebody there, they can just station a couple of officers at the back, where the pedestrian bridge connects.
Facebook photo album: Hillcrest/I-240 pedestrian bridge

(Hillcrest Bridge photo by Jason Sandford)

June 18, Mountain Xpress: In wake of death, city officials look at re-opening Hillcrest bridge
“When you’re standing right here, it looks like the cars are really far away, then you realize how fast they’re going,” he says, adding that re-opening the bridge and clearing off the sidewalk — after consultations with the Asheville Police Department and Hillcrest residents — would be a temporary measure until a the construction of the Interstate 26 interchange better integrates the apartments with downtown. “Open the bridge, clear the sidewalk and we’re good ... this has been going on too long, it’s time for Hillcrest to be part of the city again.”
June 19: Zen Sutherland's 39-second video of the bridge

An article on lack of sidewalks in Asheville mentioning the Hillcrest bridge appeared in the Citizen-Times 15 days before Gilmore was struck and killed.

My questions: are infrequent pedestrian deaths worth the benefit of cutting off escaping suspects from Hillcrest? (I'm having a hard time seeing any way the benefit could possibly outweigh the cost.) How do the people who live there feel about having the bridge closed, and having it re-opened? What are the community benefits to reopening the bridge, aside from offering safe crossing? Are there other closed pedestrian bridges in town we all need to look at reopening?

Asheville, what do we do now?


Added June 20: May 1998 Mountain Xpress article on closing the bridge

Maybin, president of the residents' group at Hillcrest, remembers how things were before the bridge was closed: Drug dealers and gamblers gathered near the walkway and in nearby vacant apartments at night; children found discarded syringes and condoms littering the area during the day; residents discovered apartments vandalized, with feces smeared on the walls; drug dealers paid little kids a couple bucks to carry drugs up the hill to waiting cars.

"You could reassure people here all you want to about reopening this bridge," Maybin said. "But when people are afraid, they're afraid."

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