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Chapel Hill Police Department runs monthly speed checks to improve pedestrian safety

A police car is parked outside of Starbucks Coffee on Franklin St. on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. The Chapel Hill Police Department has been implementing speed traps and pulling cars over for exceeding the speed limit.

The Chapel Hill Police Department is running monthly pedestrian safety enforcement operations in an effort to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths in Chapel Hill.

In September, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a vehicle on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and a student on a bicycle was struck by a dump truck on Cameron Avenue. Earlier this year in January, a cyclist who was in a crash on Franklin Street later died, and a December crash on Estes Drive left two middle school students seriously injured. 

Each month, the four dates of the safety enforcement operations are released on the Town of Chapel Hill's website. On these dates, residents can expect to see more patrol presence in traffic areas with higher pedestrian activity. The patrols are focused on preventing speeding and improving yield rates at crosswalks.

Alex Carrasquillo, the community safety public information officer for Chapel Hill Police and Fire departments, said that sending out days for when more officers will be on patrol may seem counterintuitive if the department is trying to catch people speeding but their goal is more to educate people on the issue of speeding. 

The department's education tactics include tweets that detail the number of people caught speeding and the speeds at which they were caught, he said. 

“If we can give notice that we're going to be out enforcing these laws and get people to think about that on their drive, they're probably more likely to think about it more often when they get behind the wheel of the car,” Carrasquillo said.

Speeding is a problem that has steadily increased over the last decade, said Seth LaJeunesse, a senior research associate at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.

“Chapel Hill is also a pretty transient population,” Bergen Watterson, the transportation planning manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, said. “I think there's maybe 40,000 people that commute into Chapel Hill every day, so we can do all of the education in the world and it's still people that live outside of town that are coming in late for work.”

Watterson said the structures of the roads in Chapel Hill also make it easier for drivers to speed in community areas, which highly increases the chances of injury and death among pedestrians.

The police department also works with Vision Zero, an initiative that has the goal of eliminating serious injuries and fatalities on roads. If a bicycle or pedestrian crash does occur, Vision Zero and the CHPD patrol the area to see what can be done to make it safer. 

“We talk through the crash and how it happened,” Watterson said. “Look at lighting in the area, look at vegetation, make sure everything is lit well enough and trimmed back and the sight distances are all good. We look at the condition of crosswalks, of the roads.”

As for the usefulness of the speeding operation, Watterson and LaJeunesse said it may take years to see results.

"The problem is if you cannot do enforcement all the time everywhere, it really doesn't have very much of an effect,” LaJeunesse said.

John Rees, president of the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill, said other measures such as speed cameras may help the safety situation.

“My understanding is that people who get caught for speeding by speed cameras are very unlikely to speed again, at least in that particular place, he said. “If a person gets a ticket, there aren't an awful lot of repeat offenders.”

Vision Zero also aims to continue getting people to be aware of their actions while driving, Watterson said. According to LaJeunesse, the most important thing is to continue to talk about the issue in a variety of ways, including through town hall discussions and local news media. 

@DTHCityState | 

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