The Chapel Hill Town Council voted to pass an ordinance banning right turns on red signals at 17 intersections across the area at their meeting on Wednesday.
The vote passed 7-1, with council member Nancy Oates voting against the ordinance.
The council voted to add the intersection at Pittsboro Street and Columbia Street to the ordinance, making the total 17. This addition to the ordinance will have to go to the N.C. Department of Transportation for review, and if the DOT approves, it will go into effect with the ordinance and does not need to be reviewed by the council again.
Karen Stegman, a member of the Town Council who voted in favor of the ordinance, spoke to the need to reduce the amount of driving in downtown areas.
“It's frightening, and it’s a safety issue," Stegman said. "For us as a council and as a community, safety is our goal, which is number one, but another goal is also to reduce the amount of driving that people have to do to get around town. We can have our sidewalks and greenways, which are critical and important, but if people don’t feel safe, they are not going to use them."
The council also voted unanimously on an amendment proposed by council member Hongbin Gu, allowing the council to review how the ordinance has affected traffic patterns in a year.
Chapel Hill resident and UNC professor Sheila Kannappan proposed that the intersection at Pittsboro and Columbia Street be added to the ordinance.
“Pittsboro and South Columbia Streets function as a pair near their Cameron Road intersections, each conducting one‐way traffic in the opposite direction," Kannappan said. "The Cameron and South Columbia intersection is marked to be regulated, but the Cameron and Pittsboro intersection is not. This is both illogical and dangerous.”
Kannappan also added that she rides her bike to the UNC campus from her home and often feels unsafe in this particular intersection.
"When I turn left from Cameron onto Pittsboro on my commute home in the evening, I turn left into the bicycle lane on a green arrow that gives me the right of way," she said. "Nonetheless, I must frequently dodge vehicles turning right on red across my path, because they somehow don't notice bicycles even headed right at them."
Donnie Rhoads, the patrol captain with the Chapel Hill Police Department, spoke about the history of right-on-red laws at the meeting.
“The goal of the ordinance for 'no right turn on red' is to increase pedestrian safety and decrease crashes at intersections," he said. "A permissible 'right turn on red' was introduced in the 1970s as a fuel-savings measure and has sometimes had detrimental effects on pedestrians.”
Kumar Neppalli, the Town's traffic engineering manager, explained why specific intersections were chosen. Nepali said the main factors for inclusion in the ordinance included "geometric or operational characteristics of the intersection that might result in unexpected conflicts, high number of conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles."
“We make a note that many of the recommended intersections do not have exclusive right – turning lane — the existing combination of through and right-turn lane configuration itself acts as no right turn on red during a majority of the times," Neppalli said. "However, Town staff conducted a traffic capacity analysis with no right turn on red at those locations with exclusive right turning lane."
The new ordinance goes into effect on Oct. 31.
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