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Hit and run prompts discussion of task force for senior safety

On Oct. 15, a 79-year-old pedestrian was killed in a hit and run on Homestead Road while crossing the street.

Alex Castro, Jr., chairman of the Orange County Advisory Council on Aging, said this accident prompted him to speak in front of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.

Castro recommended a task force to address senior pedestrian safety at senior center accesses. 

He said the sidewalks outside the senior centers in Orange County were a problem for seniors who push walkers or are in wheelchairs.

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said the county staff is working on an accessibility plan for their facilities. He said the board asked the staff to address external accessibility issues in addition to internal issues.

“The crosswalk (on Homestead Road) is almost invisible to drivers, unlike the ones on MLK which have flashing lights,” Jacobs said. “We need to do a better job of letting people know the crosswalk is there.”

Castro said there was a disconnect between the ownership of county facilities and sidewalks. He said Orange County owns the senior centers, but jurisdictions own the sidewalks.

Castro suggested improvements such as senior crossings, improved lighting, speed tables and reduced speed limits. 

“Seniors take longer, push walkers or are in wheelchairs so they need more time, improved lighting and slower traffic,” Castro said.

He said the flashing lights of the crosswalk on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. draw attention to the pedestrians, which provides a way to cross the street safely.

In November, Chapel Hill voters approved a bond referendum that allocated $16.2 million for streets and sidewalks.

This category includes bike and pedestrian safety, sidewalk construction, streets infrastructure and downtown streetscape.

"I am working on a presentation advocating for Complete Streets in Orange County with a focus on the fact that the population of people over 60 in the county is expected to increase by 69 percent from 2015 to 2035,” UNC graduate student Julia Katz said. 

She said crosswalks, sidewalks, lighting and signage need attention. 

“Unless you set things up in a crisis management level things aren’t going to be done,” Castro said. "We think it’s at the crisis stage; we’ve already had one fatality and that’s one too many."


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