Chapel Hill just got a lot safer for people who walk and bike. Last week, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted to pass an ordinance banning right turns on red signals at 17 intersections across the area.
We commend the council members’ vote and urge them to consider further measures to make downtown Chapel Hill less reliant on cars.
We have seen turning cars almost hit pedestrians on the crosswalks at the intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets, and we have witnessed cyclists narrowly avoid being clipped by drivers turning right on red lights on Cameron Avenue and Rosemary Street.
In 1984, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that at about 80 percent of intersections where motorists are allowed to turn right on red, pedestrian crashes increased by about 60 percent and cyclist crashes by about 100 percent.
Chapel Hill becoming more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly benefits nearly everyone in the community, especially the poor and the elderly.
Making it safer to commute without a car will make Chapel Hill more equitable. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, low-income Americans walk and bike to work the most. Pedestrian deaths are highest in low-income areas. People of color are 54 percent more likely to be hit by a car, and people older than 65 years old are 68 percent more likely to be killed by a car.
The Chapel Hill Town Council’s vote is an important step toward future-proofing Chapel Hill by making the town less dependent on cars. The council should further its good work by expanding bike lanes, passing additional pedestrian and cyclist safety measures and improving bus service.