Last week, a pedestrian was killed and a bicyclist was seriously injured on Chapel Hill’s streets. The pedestrian was hit by a car on MLK Blvd Thursday night. The bicyclist, a UNC student, was hit Thursday by a dump truck at the corner of Pittsboro and Columbia Streets.

We are angry. We recognize that it could have been one of us, or someone we love.

We are angry because we know that deaths and injuries like these are unnecessary, the direct consequence of a town, university, and state that fails to prioritize people who walk, bike, or roll on our streets.

This is at least the sixth time a cyclist in Chapel Hill has been hit by a car in 2022, and the fifth pedestrian in Chapel Hill to be hit by a car in 2022. Two middle schoolers crossing the street were hit by a car as they crossed Estes. Cyclist Nicholas Watson died in February after being doored on Franklin Street.

[Update 9/30: A pedestrian was injured on Franklin Street]

[Update 12/9: Another pedestrian was injured on MLK Blvd on December 9, 2022. This latest incident brings the town’s total of pedestrian-involved crashes to 15 in 2022.]

[Update 12/31: Another pedestrian was killed on MLK Blvd on December 29, 2022. A spokesperson for the department confirmed that this latest incident brings the town’s total of pedestrian-involved crashes to 16 in 2022.]

Town of Chapel Hill’s Vision Zero Dashboard
Town of Chapel Hill’s Vision Zero Dashboard

We’re angry because we’ve seen this before. Between 2007-2013, there were 148 pedestrian and 94 bicyclist accidents in Chapel Hill. A graduate student pleaded back in February for our towns to make our streets safer for all users. We see elementary school students biking along cars zipping past them, or trying to go around them.

We know how to fix this.

We’re angry because we know how to fix this. It’s not rocket science: it’s making sure our streets are designed to physically slow down traffic. Potentially life-saving interventions are not expensive and do not require re-engineering roadways — they include things like:

  • Changing traffic light signals
  • Calming traffic speeds on roadways with physical and visual cues
  • Raised crosswalks
  • Protected intersections
  • And (longer-term) making room for more bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and pedestrian refuge islands

We’re angry because this will keep happening.

We know our town councils’ hands are tied, as this Indyweek article details — and that they have been advocating to make our streets safer.

But many of our streets aren’t controlled by the town.

The Indyweek article notes that “NCDOT maintains 44 percent of road miles in Chapel Hill [and] 78 percent of pedestrian crashes and 93 percent of bike crashes in 2020 occurred on NCDOT roads; 24 of the 38 accidents that involved either a cyclist or pedestrian last year were also on state-maintained roads, according to town officials.”

We’re angry because NCDOT is failing to keep cyclists and walkers safe.

On Friday morning, shortly after we learned about the death of the pedestrian — and shortly before we learned about the crash involving the person riding a bike — the Chapel Hill Town Council participated in a session on the future of our community. A complete community, planner Jennifer Keesmaat told them, is one where everyone can get everywhere by bicycle. Council members nodded in agreement, supportive of safer streets.

But our streets are not getting safer.

And our cyclists and walkers will continue to die or be seriously harmed if nothing changes.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

John Rees lives in Chapel Hill. His day job is an enterprise architect for a big IT company. He was, until very recently, a member of the Chapel Hill Planning Commission and former chair. He serves on...