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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill rolls out new cyclist safety measures

The town’s new safety precautions for cyclists and pedestrians will include painting road symbols and changing crosswalk signals.

The public works team will be painting green shared-lane pavement symbols, also known as sharrow boxes, on roads with heavy bicycle traffic, according to a press release from the town.

“It signifies that everyone shares the road,” said Kumar Neppalli, the town’s engineering services manager.

The sharrows will guide cyclists to the safest place to ride, alert drivers to expect bicycle traffic and help cyclists avoid opening car doors.

The sharrow boxes will be painted on Church Street and Ransom Street as part of an ongoing experimental study, Neppalli said.

“I think anything we can do to create more visibility for cyclists is valuable, but, obviously, it alone is not sufficient to create a safe environment for cyclists,” Councilman Lee Storrow said.

The town will also install push-button activated flashing lights at four different locations on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Franklin Street.

Instead of having the crosswalk signals flashing all the time, they will now be activated by a push button at the intersection, Storrow said.

“For many months the lights have flashed consistently so you don’t have the disruption effect of the light starting uniquely when the pedestrians are crossing the crosswalk,” he said. “The blinking light catches a driver’s attention when a pedestrian is about to cross the crosswalk.”

This project was announced after recent car crashes that involved cyclists and pedestrians.

On Nov. 13, a pedestrian was struck at a crosswalk at 1520 E. Franklin St.

UNC student Scott Imura, 21, was crossing Franklin Street when he was struck by Courtney Ritter, 42, driving a 2007 Honda Odyssey Minivan, according to reports from police.

The driver was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash.

Imura was transported to UNC Hospitals for minor injuries.

Lt. Josh Mecimore, a spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said the contributing circumstances to the crash included inattention — a child in the backseat of the car distracted Ritter.

Mecimore said the Chapel Hill Police Department also participates in a statewide “Watch for Me N.C.” program which aims to increase cyclist and pedestrian safety.

“If everyone can obey traffic regulations I think we can have nice transportation in Chapel Hill,” Neppalli said.

To further enhance safety, the town said they will be organizing awareness activities each month.

The outreach program involves everything from providing helpful information to officers writing citations for violations, according to the press release.

Tony Asher, a UNC student and an avid cyclist, said he has mixed feelings about bicycle safety in Chapel Hill.

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“I feel safe some of the time, particularly during the day,” Asher said. “I feel like people really are paying attention, and it’s a perfectly fine environment.”

He said he felt less safe biking at night, when cyclists are less visible to drivers.

“On the other hand, I don’t think cyclists are taking the necessarily precautions,” Asher said. “A little blur in the dark is not going to register to drivers. Cyclists need to make themselves more conspicuous.”