During Monday’s Town Council meeting, council member George Cianciolo petitioned the town to look into eliminating right turns on red in busy downtown intersections, like the one at Franklin and Columbia streets.
“With all the pedestrians and cyclists and cars, eliminating right turns on red at busy intersections would seem to be something that makes sense,” Cianciolo said. “One accident is one too many.”
James Gallagher, spokesperson for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, agreed vehicles turning right on red could pose a threat to bicyclists and pedestrians.
“Sidewalks are technically a lane of traffic, but we’re not taught that when we’re taught to drive, so motorists typically don’t look at sidewalks for pedestrians when crossing an intersection,” he said.
Gallagher said from 2008 to 2012, vehicles making right turns on red struck 84 North Carolina pedestrians. The number of bicyclists hit was lower — only seven cyclists were struck over the same five-year period.
The disparity between pedestrian and cyclist accidents is not a surprise for some students who ride their bikes throughout campus.
“I can’t think of a single instance where right turn on red has been an issue for me as a cyclist, because I don’t ride in the sidewalks,” senior Tyler Ramer said.
However, Gallagher still thinks right turns on red are a valid concern to have when considering both cyclist and pedestrian safety.
“Generally speaking, turning vehicles are often conflict points for pedestrians and bicyclists, largely because drivers aren’t looking for pedestrians or bicyclists, they’re looking for other vehicles,” Gallagher said.
Cianciolo thinks this concern for pedestrian and cyclist safety at turning points has grown in recent years, as new technology has generated additional traffic safety concerns.
“More pedestrians are walking around with earbuds in their ears, so they might not be paying as much attention,” Cianciolo said.
Though Cianciolo favors his proposal, he said the town should investigate the effects a change like this might have before it makes a final decision.
Catherine Lazorko, a Chapel Hill spokesperson, said the town is considering Cianciolo’s proposal.
“What this could mean to the community and its potential impact on public safety, traffic and transit services is definitely a topic that will be under review,” Lazorko said.