North Carolina is one of the most dangerous states in the country for pedestrians and bicyclists, and it’s especially dangerous in high-traffic areas with populated downtown hubs and large universities like UNC.
North Carolina had the sixth-highest rate of pedestrian fatalities per capita in 2012, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But crash rates have been declining in the state throughout the past decade, said James Gallagher, pedestrian and bike communications manager for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, a division of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.
The state also has the ninth-highest bicyclist and pedestrian commuter fatality rate in the nation, according to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, an organization that advocates for cyclist and pedestrian safety.
“It’s important that cyclists and pedestrians be mindful of defensive driving,” said Lt. Joshua Mecimore, spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department.
“Not just worrying about what you’re doing, but worrying about what everyone around you is doing.”
A cyclist was hit by a vehicle at the corner of Church Street and West Rosemary Street Monday night and was transported to UNC Hospitals with minor injuries, said Lt. Kevin Gunter of the Chapel Hill Police Department. The crash follows a recent string of accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
On Oct. 3, 57-year-old Durham resident Pamela Lane was biking along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when a car pulled out of a gas station parking lot where Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard intersects with Hillsborough Street, according to a statement from the Chapel Hill Police Department.
The car hit Lane, who later died from her injuries, according to the statement.
A pedestrian hit on Jones Ferry Road on Aug. 28 and another hit on U.S. 15-501 on Sept. 29 both suffered disabling injuries, according to reports from the Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments.
In 2012 and 2013 in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, there were 50 total crashes involving pedestrians and 30 involving cyclists, according to the Highway Safety Research Center.
Watch for Me N.C., a pedestrian and bicycle safety advocacy organization, is kicking off its enforcement this fall in an effort to make the streets safer in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and elsewhere.
Gallagher, who is also a spokesman for Watch for Me N.C., said the organization trained more than 120 officers at nearly 40 police departments across the state this summer to combat this problem.
“The officers were educated about pedestrian and bike laws, what the laws say and how they can best enforce them,” Gallagher said.
He said Watch for Me N.C. already offers educational programs for the community, but in the coming months, police officers will also be more informed and able to issue citations and warnings when people walk, bike and drive unsafely.
“(Officers) will be pulling over drivers who do not yield at crosswalks,” he said.
“They will be ticketing pedestrians who cross against red lights, and they will be going after bicyclists when they see them violating a law, such as running a red light or stop sign.”
Gallagher said Watch for Me N.C. also provides police officers with bicycle lights, which cyclists are required to wear at night under state law.
“The idea behind this is that when police are driving around, if they see someone riding without these lights, they can pull them over and then provide them a set of lights,” he said.
Mecimore said Chapel Hill has a number of options for safe biking, including bike lanes and greenways.
“We have greenways that can be used to get you to and from places at much less of an incline than you might have otherwise,” he said.
“Some of those areas, like (U.S. 15-501) or (N.C. 54), you probably wouldn’t want a bike lane on the side of the highway — you would want a greenway to allow for bikes. You typically see that bikes aren’t allowed at all on highways because it’s just not safe.”
Gallagher said one of the main problems that gets in the way of bicycle and pedestrian safety is that many crashes go unreported. He said only about 56 percent of pedestrian and only 48 percent of bicycle crashes are reported.
“What’ll happen is drivers will hit pedestrians, but it won’t be significant enough to call the police,” he said.
Gallagher said awareness is one of the key components of making North Carolina’s roadways safer.
“We are trying to get all road users to do better,” he said.
“We want pedestrians using crosswalks and obeying crossing signals, we want bicyclists riding with traffic and obeying traffic signals, we want drivers watching for pedestrians and giving bicyclists room.”
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