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Wednesday December 7th

'It's really dangerous': Residents along NC-54 struggle with lack of crosswalks

UNC senior Sydney Clark stands outside Carolina Apartments off NC 54 on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC senior Sydney Clark stands outside Carolina Apartments off NC 54 on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.

The absence of crosswalks along stretches of NC-54 has created challenges for nearby apartment residents and off-campus UNC students that rely on the local bus system for transportation.

Sydney Clark, a 22-year-old outdoor educator and resident of Carolina Apartments, said she sees people from her apartment complex running across the road to get to the bus stop every day.

“It goes back and forth depending on the time of day too,” Clark said. “But it's every single day that I'm driving down 54 and there will be people like standing in the median, there'll be people in the middle of the street. And it's really dangerous.”

Chapel Hill Transit bus stops, which sit on both sides of NC-54, are positioned in areas without stoplights, meaning residents in the nearby apartment complexes have to cross the road without any pedestrian markers.

“When it would drop you off, it was on the other side of 54, like the whole highway,” Ally Newby, a junior at UNC and former resident of Kingswood Apartments, said. “All the students and everyone else would have to just run across the median and then run across, again, two lanes of traffic, and there was a curve in the road — so it was just kind of risky.”

The Town of Chapel Hill’s Annual Crash Report from 2021 listed NC-54 as one of 28 roads in the town’s High Crash Network, which includes streets with a high incidence of pedestrian or bicycle-related crashes over a five-year period.

Two recorded crashes in the report were in the vicinity of Kingswood Apartments, Laurel Ridge Apartments and Chase Park Apartments.

“We certainly have noticed that and certainly want to address that concern,” Josh Mayo, a transportation planner with the Town of Chapel Hill, said. “But that's one of those instances where a marked crosswalk will not suffice.”

Mayo said there is a pool of money set aside by the state to address safety issues on roadways.

He also said the Town and the state have partnered on a project that will place traffic signals in these areas so that pedestrians can use a push button when crossing the highway. This button will activate a red light for drivers so all traffic pauses.

Clark said that she believes the problem is due to NC-54 being treated like a highway and generally poor street planning in Chapel Hill.

“I don't know the history behind 54 and why things developed the way they did,” Clake said. “But it's definitely an equity issue because all of the big four apartment blocks down there — if you want to be in a two-bedroom and pay a decent amount of money for rent, not above $700 or $800 — it's one of the only places in Chapel Hill where you can still live.”

According to Mayo, the project for the stoplight crosswalks was originally proposed as a solution in a 2019 plan and it secured funding in 2021.

“Placing a traffic signal, doing concrete work on the road, planning out everything that it takes to do construction on a major road like that is currently underway, and will be completed around the summer of 2023,” Mayo said.

He said construction on the site should be complete by February 2024.

@oliviagschwind

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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