Las Vegas officials debate pedestrian safety measures after fatal crash

LAS VEGAS -- The Las Vegas Strip, flanked by towering casinos-hotels, is a 4-mile stretch of near-constant movement, jammed with cars, buses, taxis and mobile billboards rolling alongside scores of pedestrians.

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Keeping those strolling visitors safe, as well as making it easier to get from casino to casino, has been an ongoing quest for local officials. They have built bridges to get pedestrians over the busy corridor, widened sidewalks, shooed away some street performers and added fences intended more as a way to keep tourists in than cars out.

Some business, academic and elected leaders are defending the work done so far to keep pedestrians safe while others are suggesting fixes after a woman drove her car into a crowd of tourists outside the Planet Hollywood and Paris casino-hotels.

The car jumped the curb Sunday night, then the driver gunned the engine and plowed through pedestrians on the sidewalk, killing one person and injuring dozens more, authorities and witnesses say. Takeisha Holloway, 24, has been accused of intentionally driving into the crowd.

What the Strip has now "isn't good enough," said Jan Jones Blackhurst, an executive and spokeswoman with Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns the Paris resort among others on the Strip.

The Paris hotel is among several without a fence, barrier or raised sidewalk separating pedestrians and cars. Asked why not, Blackhurst said, "Probably because it was never required, and no one was thinking of this as an imminent danger."

Caesars has revived conversations with Clark County and law enforcement to make the Strip's sidewalks safer, including installing decorative posts allowing for the flow of people but not cars, Blackhurst said this week.

"You hate to learn the hard way," she said. "This has everyone's attention."

The county has worked over three years to install about a mile of additional fencing, mainly by requiring casino-resorts to add the barriers or raised sidewalks in front of their properties as a condition for approval on exterior improvements.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak defended the efforts and said nothing is 100 per cent foolproof.

"This is not an accident. This is someone that chose to use the vehicle as a weapon," he said.

Out of 2,433 crashes involving pedestrians between 2008 and 2011, just 63 happened on the Strip and just one was deadly, according to countywide study from 2012.

Public policy can't be remade in response to an occasional incident, cautioned Robert Lang, director of the Brookings Mountain West institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a professor of urban affairs. But design-oriented barriers, fit for Las Vegas, are possible "without making it look like a demilitarized zone," he said.

"You need better pedestrian safety along the Strip, obviously," he said.

In 2005, steps from the site of Sunday's crash, a man killed three tourists and injured nearly a dozen more when he drove his car through a crowd in front of the Bally's hotel-casino. He's now serving a life sentence.

In 2000, an intoxicated woman killed a tourist and injured five others when she crashed into a crowd in front of the former Aladdin casino-hotel.

"There's no engineering or planning for someone who wants to do evil," said Erin Breen, a pedestrian safety advocate from UNLV.

More than half of the 41.1 million travellers to Las Vegas last year walked from casino to casino, based on a visitor survey by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. That doesn't include the locals and employees filling sidewalks, too.

Breen described the Strip as a poster child for safety, especially compared with surrounding streets. Sixty pedestrians have died in Clark County so far this year. In 20 years tracking the numbers, she said she's never seen the number higher than 65.

"If you really wanted to make Las Vegas Boulevard as safe as possible, take away the flippin' cars," she said.

Associated Press writer Sally Ho in Las Vegas contributed to this report.


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