Data shows an increase in accidents along 37th Street

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) — An out-of-control tractor-trailer driver on the freeway rammed into 18 vehicles before officers were able to arrest the driver at gunpoint in a Savannah neighborhood.

The crash scene stretched approximately 13 miles from Interstate 16 and Pooler Parkway to 37th Street and Richter Street.

An analysis of city crash data by WTOC Investigates shows that what happened on January 17, 2021 is an extreme example of the spike in crashes along the 37th Street corridor.

That’s a concern for Rebecca Fenwick who lives in the Culyer-Brownsville neighborhood near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“The traffic has been very alarming, especially the lives that have been lost,” she said.

At times, she has had a front row seat to the carnage. Her home office window overlooks the intersection.

“We find that we go out pretty constantly to see if everyone is okay, every hour.”

New accident data released for 2020 shows that Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and 37th Street have the second highest accident rate in Savannah and that’s part of an increasing accident trend at intersections in the region.

Three other intersections along 37th Street also made the list of the city’s top 20 accident locations in 2019: Ogeechee Road and 37th Street; 37th and Whitaker and Montgomery Streets and 37th Streets, which made the list again in 2020.

The city’s traffic engineering department studies crash data in Savannah closely and annually compiles a list of the top 20 crash locations — looking for trends and what engineers can fix.

“We look at all crashes because you can have three right angles and no one gets hurt and if they’re all related we have something correctable,” said Steve Henry, director of mobility services for the city of Savannah. “What’s going on here that we can fix or improve?”

Much of what happens is often beyond their control: impaired driving, distracted driving and, in some cases, a deadly police chase.

But some of the crash trends along 37th Street have already led to improvements. The department recently replaced all traffic lights along 37th Street with larger ones and a reflective yellow backing, Henry said.

A broader discussion is underway about how to improve the entire 37th Street corridor from Interstate 16 to Abercorn Street, which averages more than 22,000 cars a day.

Until last year, the 37th Street section was a state road known as 204 SPUR.

Recent negotiations between the city and the Georgia Department of Transportation are what led to the change.

“It kind of allows us to be a little more off the beaten path and not have to go through GDOT,” Henry explained.

One change under consideration is narrowing the tree-lined medians on 37th to make it safer for residents who are allowed to park on the street and for drivers – exiting the freeway. “We hope to work with the community to agree on the next best step. (The plan is) very preliminary. It recently became an urban road, allowing us to do this internally. We have funding for the design,” Henry said.

The design will focus on correctable accidents, contrary to what police say happened on January 17, 2021.

Savannah police say they now believe the driver had a medical episode that day, which caused him to lose control.

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