An organization whose mission is to cultivate safe and accessible active transportation in Nebraska is taking action after two children, including a Blair boy, died while trying to cross streets last month.
“The deaths of 10-year-old Abby Whitford, who was walking across the street in Papillion, and 11-year-old Jaycoby Estrada, who was biking across the street in Blair, are heartbreaking,” Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, said in a press release. “Our most sincere condolences go out to the families, classmates and communities of friends of Abby and Jaycoby.”
The organization noted two other children in Gretna and Plattsmouth were also hit by cars while walking to and from school in the same week. However, they were not seriously injured.
“We take the fact finding process of crashes involving people biking and walking very seriously,” Harris said. “We are currently analyzing a variety of data to identify trends and potential solutions.”
Although the analysis was not yet complete, Bike Walk Nebraska, which is based in Omaha, issued a three-point call to action. Harris expects the analysis could be complete in the next few weeks.
Harris said she visited the intersection at 19th and Washington streets, where Jaycoby was killed when he was struck by a semi while riding his bike, and found the amount of truck traffic to be “staggering.”
A YouTube video shows Harris using the traffic signals to cross the streets, once as a semi nearly failed to yield to her as she crossed Washington Street.
“I was shocked. That doesn't seem like the right word,” Harris told the Pilot-Tribune. “It seems like Blair is being held hostage by trucks. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. It stifles the quality of life, let alone the safety.”
The organization is calling on Gov. Pete Ricketts and the congressional delegation to investigate ways Blair's proposed truck bypass project could be fast tracked.
“We have contacted all of these offices with this request and encourage others to do the same,” she said.
A second issue, the organization noted, was communities that struggle with safety issues related to state highways that become local streets within city limit boundaries.
“We are actively working with the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) on issues related to biking and walking and have been told internal complete streets policy language is being drafted,” the release said.
In the meantime, the organization is calling on the NDOT to review all projects in the 5-year plan involving a state highways located within city limit boundaries or urban extraterritorial jurisdictions to ensure the safety of people biking and walking is accounted for in the design.
Bike Walk Nebraska is also asking Nebraskans to “do better.”
“It shouldn't take the heartbreaking deaths of children to remind us to drive safely,” the release said.