Following incidents of recent vehicular crashes involving pedestrians in Chapel Hill, the Town has begun to conduct speed and pedestrian crossing enforcement.
Each month until September, the Town will conduct an ongoing public education campaign to increase pedestrian safety. Enforcement efforts will target a different high-injury risk area that town staff and police identify using annual crash data.
The Town conducted the first of these sessions on March 23 and March 27. March’s efforts focused on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where two pedestrians were hit in the last two weeks, one resulting in death.
The main law that police officers are enforcing is failure to yield, which has been the cause of some of the recent pedestrian crashes, Jordan Powell, Complete Streets and GIS specialist for Chapel Hill, said. The officers, positioned at crosswalks for the campaign, are also focusing on enforcing the speed limit, which is an important factor in how severe an injury from a crash is.
“The goal is not to issue a bunch of citations, it's really just to get the word out about crosswalk laws and to get broad community education around pedestrian safety to make Chapel Hill a safe and walkable community for folks of all abilities,” Powell said.
The Town received a $67,000 grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Governor’s Highway Safety Program to conduct the campaign. The grant runs until the 2021 fiscal year ends in September, but Powell said the town is applying for the fiscal year 2022 grant to continue the work.
UNC sophomore Reghan Flores said she has almost been hit multiple times walking on crosswalks when she had the right of way.
Flores said she is glad there will be increased police monitoring, but she is hesitant that it will not have the desired impact.
“There are so many crosswalks, and even with signage, cars fail to yield to pedestrians,” Flores said. “Hopefully, more ticketing will lead to increased awareness amongst Chapel Hill residents, but the fear of potentially being another victim of failure to yield will always be with me.”
Powell said he thinks a factor that could have caused the recent pedestrian crashes is that more people are increasingly using the roads following a period of relatively empty roads during the pandemic.
“I think it’s a culmination of folks that were used to having empty roads for the last 12 months, and now that schools are reopening and there's more traffic during peak hours and some offices are reopening, pedestrians are back out on the roads more than they were,” Powell said.
Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the district's hybrid return to school means the volume of students driving to school, taking the bus or walking is still less than it was before the pandemic. However, he said more students will be coming back following spring break.
“We are always concerned about the safety of everybody and we have safeguards in place to make sure everybody gets in and out of school safely,” Nash said.
As more students return to school, it is especially important for road users to be aware and cautious as there will be increased pedestrian and vehicle traffic in school zones during peak hours, the Town said in a press release.
Powell said increased police monitoring in April will likely focus on school zones such as Estes Drive where Estes Hill Elementary and Guy B. Phillips Middle School are located.
The campaign is part of the Town’s broader goal to increase pedestrian safety. In 2018, the Town joined a national initiative called the Road to Zero, which aims to eliminate traffic-related pedestrian deaths. The Road to Zero guides the implementation of the 2019 Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which lays out specific strategies for address pedestrian safety concerns through policy, infrastructure and programming.
“It’s important that this (campaign) isn’t an isolated approach,” Powell said.
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