Carrboro resident advocates for pedestrian safety

Orange County traffic has claimed the lives of five cyclists and pedestrians in the last three months and Michael Christian has made it his mission to make roads safer for pedestrians.

“I think that the recent pedestrian fatalities are a travesty and that they are often the result of situations that could have been prevented,” said Christian, a Carrboro resident and UNC business professor.

Lisa Renee Baldwin, 41, was hit and killed near University Mall in early September.

Later that month, two bicyclists, Ivin Scurlock and Alexandria Simou, were killed after being hit by a car on U.S. Highway 15-501 — about 110 feet outside of Chapel Hill town limits.

A man was walking on the railroad tracks on Buckhorn Road, which is east of Mebane, and was struck and killed by an Amtrak passenger train on Nov. 17. Authorities have not released the name of the man.

Gregory Powell was hit and killed by a car on Bethel Hickory Grove Church Road, which is five miles west of Carrboro on Nov. 19. Powell, who turned 19 on Nov. 15, graduated from Chapel Hill High School in June.

“In an area that prides itself on walkability, diversity and ‘a small town appeal,’ it is too bad that there has not historically been a bigger commitment to the building of infrastructure for pedestrians,” Christian said.

Christian advocated for new sidewalks in Carrboro at a Board of Aldermen meeting in November. He said the board was very receptive to the idea of prioritizing walkability in Carrboro.

According to the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2,200 N.C. pedestrians are involved in police-reported crashes with motor vehicles each year. Of those 2,200, about 150 to 200 are killed, and another 500 are seriously injured, the research says.

Charlie Zegeer, the research center’s associate director of engineering and planning and the project manager of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, said he was also concerned about the recent accidents.

“There are challenges particularly in the fall with school starting and all the new people,” said Zegeer.

“People from all over the world come here to go to school, and they all have their own different behaviors both as pedestrians and drivers.”

Zegeer cautioned pedestrians to always be aware when crossing busy streets, and to assume they are invisible to drivers on the road. He also said distraction by cell phones is becoming a larger issue with both pedestrians and drivers.

Christian and other concerned citizens formed a group called “Safe to Walk Carrboro” and have a petition circulating with more than 200 signatures to requesting that a sidewalk be put in on South Greensboro Street. He said the street is narrow and there are no sidewalks or shoulders to prevent pedestrians and bicyclists from being able to travel safely.

“Chapel Hill and Carrboro are wonderful places to live, but the zoning in many parts of town unfortunately leaves bikers and walkers with little choice but to walk or pedal close to traffic,” Christian said.

“This is precarious, and frankly I am surprised that there have not been more accidents and injuries as a result.”

He said his next step is convincing the state Department of Transportation that a project like adding a sidewalk to South Greensboro Street is worthy of budget allocations. He said the project was important, despite it being in the town rather than on a highway.

“Some people don’t own cars, and they have no option but to risk their lives,” he said.

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