Another pedestrian fatality

Police statement published today by the Carrboro Citizen:

On Thursday, December 11th, the Chapel Hill Police responded to a traffic crash on N.C. 54 west of the South Columbia Street Bridge. Seven pedestrians were reportedly crossing the roadway at approximately 10:30 PM. Four of the pedestrians had made it to the median and three were struck by an eastbound vehicle. One person, a female, was pronounced dead at the scene and two others were transported to UNC Hospital for treatment of their non-life threatening injuries.


Highlighting yet again the need to make our town more walkable.  


One factor contributing to accidents is cell phone use.  It seems to me that insurance companies should state that if it can be proved that someone causing an accident was on their cellphone, then the insurance is invalid.  Perhaps some distinction could be made between hands-free or hand-held cellphones, but either way driving ability is significantly impaired.  This is radical, but this, or similar rules/legislation,will have to come, sooner or later.

What would happen if a pedestrian was seriously injured and then the driver's insurance company invalidated the driver's insurance because they were talking on a cellphone?  Who would take care of the pedestrian's medical bills?  Even if the pedestrian sued the driver it could be years before they collect, if ever.Years ago I asked the CH Council to support a bill in the state legislature banning hand-held cellphone use while driving.  I believe the bill was first proposed by Mary McAllister in 1999 but unfortunately it has never gotten out of committee.   The Council had more pressing needs for their legislative agenda so my request didn't go beyond the petition stage.  Although some states have passed such bans it has been difficult because a number of studies suggest that other distractions such as tuning the radio, adjusting the temperature controls, etc. are equally distracting.  However, with the dramatically-increasing use of text messaging I would hope that there might be renewed interest in such bans.  But I would keep the insurance companies out of it.  They would like nothing better than the opportunity to add another disclaimer.

I agree.  Ban cellphones while driving.  Also ban children and pets from cars, as well.  I've gotten in accidents because of kids and pets, but never because of cellphones.

If cellphone use could be proven, hands-free or hand-held, then this radical proposal would certainly reduce the frequency of cellphone-related accidents.  We all know people who rarely drive without talking on the phone -- not necessarily for business but to keep themselves entertained on the road.  I have two regular hands-free callers who maintain that hands-free is perfectly safe even though they're constantly missing turns.  No amount of lecturing on my part has broken them of the habit, which is frankly annoying.  Young drivers are especially at risk.  Quite recently I read that an amazing percentage report driving and text-messaging! 

Invalidating insurance would often hurt the victim more than the perp.  Jail time for phone talkers causing an accident would be better; and a public arrest may make a better deterrent.

Chapel Hill thought it was OK to put a divided highway in with bus stations on each side without pedestrian bridge/tunnels. In this case, Making people run across a busy highway to their apartment in the dark seems like a much bigger problem than prosecuting people talking on a cell phone, don't you agree?However watch the town's predictable response; a crack down on the speed limit in an attempt to blame drivers for fatalities that are really the result of poor planning and design deficiencies.

TBlake:Before you accuse the Chapel Hill officials of poor highway design you should get your facts straight.  NC54 is a state highway - designed and built by NCDOT.  Chapel Hill officials (as well as Carrboro I'm sure) had little or any input into its design and certainly don't have much say over the speed limits there.  Since you don't live in either town it is understandable that you might not understand how they function.  But that is still no excuse for making unfounded charges.Unfortunately, when developers built apartments on the sides of these highways then there becomes a demand for bus service.  At that point all the municipalities can do is to provide bus stops and hope that the citizens will use common sense.   The municipalities will probably look for ways to improve safety on these roads but it certainly is not a response to poor design on their part but rather a response to the increased pedestrian traffic along a state-designed highway.

...that Chapel Hill must have had input into Fordham Blvd design included in the fact of state funding. Where is Chapel Hills much discussed transportation improvement plan? It seems as if major road widening projects are routinely discussed and if the state did not have funds, at least the town knew it was coming and could have allocated monies for a bridge(s) or put tunnels into the design, eh?If developers put the apartments in *after* the Fordham Blvd then Chapel Hill is really at fault. This sort of thing should have been anticipated as part to the design of the apartment buildings just as turn lanes, sidewalks and curbs. As well, the University should claim a piece of these tragedies. Many other universities have recognized the need for pedestrian transport in the "crown jewel" camps and town. Seems to me to be more important than an airport in terms of lives, but probably convenient to the wrong people. am sorry you feel the criticism is unjustified, but this has been a problem since 54 was widened. It has been discussed adnausium, worse people continue to die trying to simply get home. Chris Fordham must be rolling over in his grave. 

TBlake,Every year the towns put in their recommendations to the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC-MPO) for prioritizations of transportation projects on the TIP (Transportation Improvements List).  By my estimates there were porobably at least half a dozen different public hearings at which you or anyone else could have spoken.  BTW, the pedestrian bridge across Fordham Blvd was one of many potential projects on that list.  I suspect that you have never taken the time to either attend any of these public hearings nor to write to elected officials to make your preferences known.  So maybe you should begin to get your facts in order before you offer criticisms based on little or no substance. Durham, where I lived until three years ago. I have been living in this area since 1982, and I was shocked and amazed they put that highway in and allowed apartments to be built without a pedestrian crossing in a university town. It has to go down as one of the single biggest boneheaded decisions I can remember.I don't live in CH-Hill proper and it is pretty obvious how much county residents are listed to in these forums. I do actively participate in County decisions, so I feel like I do my part thank-you-very-much-for-asking.I think the repeated deaths in this area speak volumes about the validity of my criticism. Providing no pedestrian crossing what-so-ever borders on negligence. You think I don't know that the town had input into DoT design decisions on the 54 widening? Exactly what in my criticism has little or no substance, Mr. Chilton? Methinks thou doth protest too much.BTW, where were you Mr. Chilton?

Mr. Blake, I don't understand your hostility.  I didn't use the words 'no substance.'  I didn't question your civic engagement and I am not sure why you are attacking me."BTW, where were you Mr. Chilton?"When?  What are you talking about?

I meant to address that to George C (who's picture reminds me of a "Mark" I once knew, I think). Anyway, I looked at the picture not the name. My sincere appologies. Thank you for correcting me, I Can't edit my post, but if I could I would.

Oh!  No problem.

George C, I was in Durham, where I lived until three years ago. I have been living in this area since 1982, and I was shocked and amazed they put that highway in and allowed apartments to be built without a pedestrian crossing in a university town. It has to go down as one of the single biggest boneheaded decisions I can remember. I don't live in CH-Hill proper and it is pretty obvious how much county residents are listened to in these forums. I do actively participate in County decisions, so I feel like I do my part thank-you-very-much-for-asking. I think the repeated deaths in this area speak volumes about the validity of my criticism. Providing no pedestrian crossing what-so-ever borders on negligence. You think I don't know that the town had input into DoT design decisions on the 54 widening? Exactly what in my criticism has little or no substance, George C? Methinks thou doth protest too much. BTW, where were you George C?

TBlake,I was on Chapel Hill advisory boards (Transportation, Planning, Community Design Commission) reading over and studying the information that you've not bothered to take the time to look up and read.  Since it is obvious that you have an axe to grind with Town officials and it's equally obvious that you've chosen to level criticism at those officials without any knowledge of the specifics, I'm not going to bother to argue any further with you.  It is not thatTown people don't listen to County residents, it's just that it makes no sense to do so when those residents are intent on leveling criticisms of officials regarding Town issues that they have no understanding of.

George C. You do sound awfully defensive to me and I stand by my comments.People have been getting killed out there for a while now, perhaps you could point me to where you or the town has done or attempted to do anything about it ther than talk?It seems like there is a lot of press and no action.

If you read the rest of this thread you will see that both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have been begging and pleading for better pedestrian facilities for many years. Your anger about the situation is justified, but misplaced.I spent 6 years on Chapel Hill's Transportation Board and 6 years on the Planning Board. We constantly ranked pedestrian improvements among our top priorities but when the roads are within DOT's control (which most major thoroughfares are, including the bypass, Franklin, Rosemary, Colombia, and MLK) local governments do not have the ability to act unilaterally.Some of the consequences we've seen from past disagreements with DOT include defunding (or de-prioritizing) projects that we very much need state money for. Estes Drive extension comes to mind - if we didn't do it their way, the state was not willing to help make badly needed changes to accommodate non-auto traffic. Have you noticed which state agency has had the most corruption scandals in the past decade? The State Board of Transportation is mostly unreformed good old boys who are more interested in lining their pockets than serving the state's interests.  You should go to one of their meetings, it's like walking into a smoke-filled backroom in Mayberry, without the smoke.

......comment style. I am not angry. I just question how this happened and more importantly why this has gone on for so long. I question why the media (who seem to report the incidents) never take the state and DoT to task, and what's more, I question the university about their stated position on pedestrian accessibility, yet allow this situation to go on. I question the landlords not wanting this solved and being willing to help with cost. Just a question.My reaction to the comments about cell phones being the problem was amazement.My reaction to George's defensiveness is that he seems to feel guiltyI still believe it is ultimately Ch Hill/Carrboro's issue to drive and resolve among the players.OTOH maybe I like my comment style, it seems to have evoked a response. Perhaps someone in a position to do something is reading this…..P.S Floyd the barber always gave me the creeps :)

TBlake,I'm not being defensive - I'm angry that you've chosen to condemn the elected officials of Chapel Hill and Carrboro for what you perceive to be their shortcomings in protecting the public.  I've had many years of firsthand experience working with these folks and know that there aren't any people more dedicated than these to getting as many protections as possible for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.  As Ruby has so effectively pointed out, however, NC-DOT controls 85% of our roads in this area and they control the funding as well.  I could go into a lot of detail (but won't).  But let me say that here in Orange County, even though we share planning with Durham, our funding comes out of DOT Division 7 which includes Greensboro.  If you've travelled I-40/I-85 recently past Greensboro it will be obvious where the majority of funding has gone.If you feel so strongly about this issue, and are as committed as you say, perhaps you'd like to start a grassroots movement (ala 'No Airport') to lobby DOT and the legislature for the necessary funds to effect the safety measures we've all been asking for over many years.

Plate's full right now fighting a poorly chosen site for a waste transfer station and the elite airport (hmmm. maybe that's a good name for it). When I get done saving Orange County I'll be back to defend Gotham. :)It does seem to me that there are avenues that have not been tried. I think a campaign of private citizens highlighting the deaths and lobbying DoT for a solution (not necessarily the gold plated Cadillac) would be a good start. When the citizenry gets riled, it tends to empower the government.I did learn that busses run a circular route down Fordham Blvd, so it is possible for people to "take the bus" to the other side, which is good. How widely is that loop advertised? How about "don't run, take the bus" signs at well known crossing points? I had my heart in my mouth a few days ago when I saw a woman and a baby carrage crossing 100 yards before Jones Ferry exit.If Obama is going to fund public works projects that are "shovel ready" I would think CH-Carrboro might want to put at least crosswalks near the top of the list.I still haven't seen or been able to google any hard action on the matter before March this year. The town has requested federal funds for an over/under pass - in March 2008, and yes also in March this year the university kicked in 50K for lights, down by Manning drive. _Two years_after Professor Galinski's death.Even with these changes, it does not take much time driving down Fordham Blvd however to see the disasters waiting to happen and this lunacy has been going on for years. I don't feel bad saying something about it. I don't feel at all bad about criticizing the town. I don't think the town, state, university, local business or feds have done enough solve the problem they created, but at the end of the day, it is the towns responsibility to get the problem that has been festering for years addressed. I don't blame you or Ruby or any other individual, I commend you for trying. I get especially annoyed when the UNC board of trustees can waste money on bogus economic studies for unnecessary airports (there, I got my plug in).

"at the end of the day, it is the towns responsibility to get the problem that has been festering for years addressed."I have been working on these problems for a long time and I can assure you that all of the authority rests in Raleigh.  I am not passing the buck, TBlake, I have been trying to wrestle the buck away from DOT for approaching two decades.  The feds allocate transportation dollars to be spent on our community, but NCDOT does not allow our community to decide which projects are the most important.Carrboro is in the midst of a multi-million dollar sidewalk construction program - using entirely local tax dollars - because NCDOT won't generally let us use our federal transportation dollars for the purpose.  What do you not get about that?You suggest that we should form organizations to fight the power.  You mean like the NC Alliance for Transportation Reform - ?  Chapel Hill and Carrboro helped found the group.  Or maybe the North Carolina Conservation Council - ?  Yeah, I served on the Board of Directors and so have other local elected officials from OC and we helped push the DOT reform agenda. Or maybe I should start a blog to express my outrage over abuses at NCDOT?  Done that too: maybe the local elected officials should use their positions in local government to wrestle control over federal transporation funding away from NCDOT?  All I can say about that is: Go to a Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting some time and listen in.  The MPO is a constant battleground over this exact issue.  I have served three tours of duty on the MPO before.  Alderman Lydia Lavelle, Mayor Kevin Foy, Councilmember Ed Harrison, Councilmember Bill Strom, and County Commissioner Alice Gordon are currently on the MPO fighting for community control of federal transportation money.  Also Hillsborough Town Board member Eric Hallman, I believe.I'm not abdicating responsibility, I am just taking offense at your implication that we are failing to do what we can.

But, gees, Mark, what have you done lately? 

But, gees, Mark, what have you done lately?

Ahem, that's "jeez" not "gees"--don't try to take the jeez out of local politics.

Sorry I offended you and your sensibilities. What I cannot understand is things like; how did the Rails to Trails organization get funded for a pedestrian overpass over I-40 (not yet built, I admit but a bond has been approved and the bridge is funded), when you can't get one in a place where people are getting killed? Certainly (I know this to be true) this has been approved not only by NCDoT *and* the Feds)

Two new updates on two different NCDOT scandals have been posted at for anyone who is interested.


Only two comments; 1) maybe we should consider Eddie Carroll Thomas to manage the solid waste and 2) it seems the height of irony that Mecklenburg and Wake should be complaining that Cumberland county is being favored for transportation projects :) Sorry, I just finished watching the Soprano's series on netflix and I currently have a silly streak when it comes to corruption. I'll get over it.

Local governments do get some input on state highway design, but a) it's limited and b) having recent.  Just a few years ago, NCDOT would do their projects their way or not at all.The 54 Bypass was built - somebody help me out here - maybe 35 years ago?  Likewise most of the apartments along it (in both towns).We do need better pedestrain crossing arrangements for 54 (in both towns), but please don't asume that making these changes is easy or cheap.  Chapel Hill fought with NCDOT for over a decade to get a crosswalk painted on West Franklin Street - a crosswalk!  And DOT wouldn't let that happen until someone was killed trying to cross the street!  You know those "Yield to Pedestrians" paddles that stick up in some of the crosswalks in Carrboro?  That took about a year for DOT approve.  And we have asked to put up more of them and have yet to receive approval.

"DOT wouldn't let that happen until someone was killed trying to cross the street!  "Mark, is there really a policy like this? I find that hard to believe and would appreciate a reference. Also, would DOT haul towns into court for taking a minimal safety step without approval - say, painting a crosswalk and putting street lights at each end? On the other hand, I guess that raises the whole liability issue doesn't it?   i.e. if the town put it there unilaterally and someone got hurt using it then the town (and motorist?) would be liable?

"would DOT haul towns into court for taking a minimal safety step without approval"I don't know, but the Town officials take an oath to uphold North Carolina law in their official capacities, so I doubt they would willfully break an unambiguous state law.  I am not hiding behind this, but really, we are NOT PERMITTED to alter state highways. "Mark, is there really a policy like this? [ie re: a fatality requirement]"No.  Let me clarify, though: When I was on the Town Council, we were consistently told by DOT that there were few enough car-ped accidents on West Franklin Street that a crosswalk was not needed.  Then (after I moved to Carrboro) a homeless man got killed in about 2001 while crossing West Franklin.  Shortly thereafter, DOT acquiesced and painted a crosswalk.  So, I stand by my characterization of what happened:  "DOT wouldn't let that happen until someone was killed trying to cross the street!"Maybe someone with access to the N&O archive could post links to relevant newspaper accounts of this incident. UPDATE: Here is part of the story.  It was in October 2002. 


....what prevented the town from painting the cross walk? What would Dot do, come over and cover it up? This sounds like more "it's not my job" than "its dangerous".I think Fordham Blvd was widened in the late 1980's and I believe history shows many apartments have been built since. Before that it was highway much like 54 is now out near the Alamance county line. Highway 54 used to be two lanes all they way up to the Durham line. Come to think of it, it's funny (not funny ha-ha) how crosswalks and pedestrian lights were included in the Friday Center design. I do not assume they are easy or cheap. I think that they are necessary especially where people live and work though.

I don't know when Fordham was widened.  It was before 1988 when I arrived as a Freshman at UNC.It's possible that some of the apartments on 54 were built as late as 1988, but not many.  Abbey Court was built in 1982 or so.  I think Carolina, Royal Park etc. are a good bit older than that.  Laurel Ridge (which is on the town line, but in Chapel Hill) may have been built in the late 1980's.

I remember it vaguely after we arrived. I think they widened all they way out past the Friday Center (which was not there at the time) right after I-40 completion in 1984. I seem to recall that the apartments that existed before the widening had safe (safer) crossing. Jones Ferry, Smith Level and the intersection near Mt Carmel Church were all stop lights. As I recall there were some apartments built there in the 1990's but I may be wrong.Isn't there a further widening of Fordham Blvd planned soon? Is it in the same area? If so, could this be a potential opening to address crossing safety. Or do you think it is more important to have the crossings in place before any widening takes place to insure they are considered in the new design.

I'll have to check on where the proposed widening is.  I think you are right that some widening of 15-501 has been discussed for some part of Orange County.I think ped-safety should certainly be inserted into that conversation, but there are big safety problems along the 54 bypass in Carrboro (where no widening is being considered) and we need to have those problems addressed as well.I think we should also ask Chapel Hill Transit to reconsider the way that the various bus routes run on the Bypass.  I think several parts of the Bypass end up having the bus run only one way, so that you cannot get off the bus on the south side of 54 in Carrboro no matter which route you ride.  I could be wrong about that, but you get the overall point.  It ought to at least be possible to get off or on to a bus on your own side of the Bypass, whichever side you live on.

I think Carolina, Royal Park etc. are a good bit older than that.  Laurel Ridge (which is on the town line, but in Chapel Hill) may have been built in the late 1980's.

Carolina and Royal Park date back to the mid to late 70s, Laurel Ridge to 1981 at the very latest. I campaigned (for myself or others) in all three complexes.

Mark wrote: "You know those "Yield to Pedestrians" paddles that stick up in some of the crosswalks in Carrboro?"I just want to take the opportunity, since you mentioned these, to thank everyone involved in getting these in place. It is a great thing to have these mid-block crosswalks in downtown Carrboro! Kudos to you.James Coley

I think the credit goes especially to Carrboro Town Staff.  Dale McKeel no longer works for Carrboro, but he was the lead staff person on it at the time.

I had just turned right on 15-501 from Erwin Rd. (right where the complicated pretzel  re-engineering of the highway recently took place) and saw a stream of pedestrians running across the widened highway out of the triangular, fairly big wooded area on my left. As I approached the line of people crossing the road, several of them stopped and doubled back to the wooded median since the trafic was getting thick. My first thought was that this was a dangerous situation and an ill-advised bus stop location. My second thought was that this major redesign of the road system had occurred with complete disregard for pedestrian traffic patterns. It seemed ill-conceived and bound to result in a tragedy.

Mark,If I understand where you were, this situation has been going on for at least the last ten years (since I've commuted daily to downtown) and likely longer.  I think what you are seeing are people riding the D bus (there may be other routes)  who decide it's faster to get off and run across the highway than wait until the bus makes the loop around to the the other side (Pinegate Apts etc).  I get off the D before it loops around but I'm pretty sure there is a stop they could use which would make this dash unnecessary if they wanted to ride longer rather than walk across the highway. Linda Convissor favor of further dilution of the gene pool. If people insist on tempting Darwin there is only so much that can be done.Just in case anyone think I am completely heartless, I will continue to slow down and stop if necessary when I see people in the road though :)

Mark,The "superstreet" redo at that intersection includes pedestrian crosswalks and signalheads.  From your description it sounds to me like those people crossing had only to walk about 50-100 yards to the intersection of Erwin and they could cross using the pedestrian crosswalk and signal.  Is that not correct or are you referring to a different area?

I'll have to look at the area again given what you've said. Maybe the bus should stop at the crosswalk instead of making the walk to the apartments so convoluted?

My wife and I live in one of the three townhouse communities near Erwin Road and 15/501.  Like many of those residents as well as those in the apartment complexes nearby, we are very happy that we can walk almost anywhere.  However, one has to be very careful plus crossing Franklin St. or 15/501.  My wife has always wondered whether or not both towns have ever really discussed pedestrian overpasses which are used in many parts of this country and the rest of the world?  They are unattractive, use a lot of land and are expensive but they get the job done and they might significantly reduce these terrible losses of life and serious injuries.  Tom

Tom,Chapel Hill organized a committe to study pedestrian and bicycle safety on 15-501, especially near Manning Drive, after several fatalities a few years ago.  One of the suggestions was a pedestrian overpass.  Although many are, as you said, unattractive, I'm sure that with a little effort a reasonably attractive overpass could be designed.  Unfortunately, from what I've been told by Chapel Hill transportation planners, an overpass on 15-501 would cost at least $ 2.5 million.  And that is assuming that NC-DOT would allow it to be built since they are pretty finicky about what can and can't be done on their roads, particularly one that they consider to be a major traffic mover.  I'm sure that you can understand that finding $ 2.5 million, especially in the current economic environment, is a major obstacle for those that would like to see this approach pursued. 

It's incredibly hard to believe that a bridge across the highway would cost anywhere near even $1 million. Something is not right with that figure.

Mark,Raleigh spent $3.8M on a pedestrian bridge spanning I-440 back in 2004-2005.  Of course, that was much longer than anything we would need but the costs of concrete and steel have gone up greatly since then.  In addition, because a bridge over 15-501 would probably begin at grade you would need a lot of ramping to be ADA compliant which means you would need a lot of land at each end.  I believe the $ 2.5 million figure for the bridge near 15-501 and Manning included the right-of way acquisition costs.

the pedestrian bridge over Lane Street in Raleigh cost $500,000 back in 1985 but half that cost was moving utility lines and undergrounding them. excuses not to do something. Do you *know* what DoTs reaction is? Have you solicited the apartment owners for permission to use their land as a "landing zone"? Have you looked into UNCs huge endowment? (Where are you when we need you Roger Perry?). UNC just spent huge dollars on an Arboretum, how come a pedestrian crossing wasn't included?If an overpass is too expensive why not at least some decent bi directional crossing lights that are timed for pedestrian crossings (say every 10 minutes or so)?

It is interesting that the railroad can perceive a safety problem and construct a separated grade pedestrian crossing, but highway planners cannot:

The projects of a pedestrian underpass in Alamanee County, and...

it is a tunnel for students to use to get from one part of the Elon College camous to another, which is separated by the railroad tracks.  Chapel Hill has just one pedestrian tunnel, on MLK Blvd that was buit to get restaurant pedestrians from the parking that was across the street.



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