Some Hilton Head Island homeowners have renewed calls to make South Forest Beach Drive safer, following the death Sunday of a woman struck by a hit-and-run driver.
Hilton Head resident Jenny Mercer, 34, was killed while walking on South Forest Beach Drive near Bayberry Lane at 3:09 a.m., according to the S.C. Highway Patrol. Mercer was wearing dark clothing when she was hit by a vehicle traveling east, according to the patrol.
Jack Daly, president of the South Forest Beach Owners Association, said Monday he was saddened but not shocked by the news.
Daly said in May, he warned the town and the S.C. Department of Transportation, which owns the road, about the dangers of trying to cross the busy, unlit street.
DOT district administrator Robert Clark said he isn't aware of any planned improvements for the road and thinks it is safe. However, he said state maintenance workers might inspect the road for "deficiencies" after it gets a completed report of Sunday's hit-and-run from the Highway Patrol.
Bayberry Lane and several other streets along a 1-mile stretch of the road have no direct access to a town bike path on the opposite side of South Forest Beach Drive. The path is blocked by a ditch and a wall of bushes. That forces pedestrians and bicyclists to walk or ride on South Forest Beach Drive for a block to a marked crosswalk a few hundred feet away, Daly said.
"The crosswalks are even more dangerous closer to Sea Pines, where one side of South Forest Beach Drive has a deep ditch preventing direct street crossing," he said. "Pedestrians have to walk next to the ditch or on the blind curve by the Sea Pines ocean gate until they can cross to the bike path on the other side. Tourists especially are basically sitting ducks as they try to make a group decision whether to go left or right down a busy road to the next possible crossing."
Daly said the association has asked the DOT to install drainage pipes along the ditch to allow people to cross directly from the end of Hickory, Myrtle, Laurel and Juniper lanes to the town bike path.
"I hope this tragic death spurs the state and town to focus on these unsafe crosswalks," Daly said. "We've been asking for years, with absolutely no luck."
This summer, the town placed more signs along South Forest Beach Drive warning drivers of pedestrian crossings along a 2-mile stretch.
"All crossings there are well-marked with both signs and pavement markings," said town traffic and transportation engineer Darrin Shoemaker. "It's a very heavily traveled area for pedestrians, which is why we try to keep an eye on the traffic control down there.
"And I don't recall any previous serious vehicle-verse-pedestrian collisions in that area since I've been with the town, beginning in 2000."
Daly, though, contends the crosswalks are poorly marked with faded reflective paint and should include reflective posts on the centerline of the road to better alert drivers to the crossings.
Councilman Bill Harkins, who sits on the town's Public Safety Committee, said more details of Sunday's hit-and-run are needed before town and state officials can properly assess what, if any, safety improvements are needed.
"We don't the know the state of her mental or physical condition," Harkins said. "... There are so many variables. That said, illumination may be an issue that merits some further review for that area."
Jack Daly, president, South Forest Beach Owners Association on road safety needs
Some Hilton Head Island homeowners have renewed calls for safety improvements along South Forest Beach Drive in light of Sunday's fatal hit-and-run. Jack Daly, president of the South Forest Beach Owners Association, discusses the difficulty of trying to cross the busy, unlit roadway.Video by reporter Tom Barton
Bill Harkins, Hilton Head Island town councilman, on South Forest Beach Drive safety improvements
Hilton Head Island Town Councilman Bill Harkins, who sits on council's Public Safety Committee, said more details of an Oct. 3, 2013, fatal hit-and-run on South Forest Beach Drive are needed before town and state officials can properly assess what, if any, safety improvements are needed along the roadway.Video by reporter Tom Barton
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.