Published: May 13, 2009 12:30 AM
Modified: May 13, 2009 08:32 AM
I've not met Jurgen Henn, but we both work in the Brightleaf Square retail and office complex on Gregson and Main Streets downtown. One thing he and almost everyone who works in the two renovated tobacco warehouse buildings experience is seeing or hearing box trucks colliding into the railroad bridge at Gregson and Peabody.
The bridge is clearly marked with a sign that says 11'8" to indicate the clearance, and an iron beam also has flashers to alert the truck drivers that their rig is too tall. But it hasn't stopped the box truck decapitations.
Jurgen Henn decided to turn the accidents into a video project. He works in the South Building, where there is a clear view of the bridge. He set up a camera and captured crash after crash and loaded a compilation of them onto YouTube. It became a sensation.
And the videos aren't restricted to trucks; there are videos of cars getting into the action, with inattentive drivers rear-ending each other under the bridge.
Having worked in the North Building for 15 years, I've lost count of the number of times I've heard the now-familiar "BOOM" of metal scraping metal as the trucks speed down Gregson (usually at a rate of speed that causes crossing pedestrians to jump back onto the curb), and slam into the bridge, getting trapped. Usually this results in the top of the truck peeling back like a sardine can. More than a few employees have collected the interesting twisted pieces of metal and hung it on their walls as, well, "found art."
I've actually only seen the box car carnage occur a couple of times, but I can clearly hear them from my office since my office window faces the bridge. The last crash that I recall was a few months ago while I was getting a cup of tea at Alivia's on Main, which also faces the bridge, and we heard the familiar "BOOM!" Regulars nonchalantly turned around and kept talking.
But while the videos of the box truck disasters provide some laughs, there's a serious issue of all drivers speeding down Gregson. Many drivers run red lights, but heaven help it if the light is green: then they don't even bother to slow down as they barrel toward the crosswalks.
At some point the complaints about the pedestrian-unfriendly intersection warranted one of those "State Law Pedestrian Crossing" signs that are placed in the crosswalk between Brightleaf and its guest parking lot. This improved things a bit, but it inadvertently created a different problem. Drivers who bothered to notice the sign would slow down and stop for pedestrians, but the chronic speeders gunning it through the light would then slam into the stopped car. I happened to be walking on Gregson and witnessed one of those accidents. Fortunately, in that case, the driver of the hit car walked away; the car, however, was in bad shape.
So whether it's speeding oversized box trucks or folks driving "fast and furious" cars running lights, the safety of Bull City downtown pedestrians is a hit-or-miss -- no pun intended -- proposition at this intersection. If we want a safe and walkable downtown for residents and visitors, we're going to need more effective traffic control. Until then, Jürgen Henn will continue to have rich resources to capture on video from his office cam.
To see Jurgen Henn's videos, click over to http://11foot8.com.
Contact Pam Spaulding at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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