The Onion publishes variants of the same article every time there’s a school shooting in America. The headline is always the same – ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

We’re contemplating a similar approach for stories about motorists (in both cars and trucks) hitting pedestrians and bikers in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

From Chapel Hill’s annual crash report, we learn the following: “From 2017 to 2021, there were 184 pedestrian and bicyclist-involved crashes in the Town of Chapel Hill. This is an 11 percent increase in crashes from the previous 5-year total.

In 2021, there were 38 pedestrian and bicyclist-involved crashes, the same amount as in 2020. The number of fatal or serious injury crashes increased from three to eight from 2020 to 2021. Chapel Hill renewed ongoing efforts around pedestrian and bicyclist safety in response to two deaths in 2018, but at least one pedestrian or bicyclist has been killed in each year since 2018.”

The town is still gathering data for 2022 for their Vision Zero dashboard, but here’s what we know so far:

We started the year reeling: A motorist driving a car slammed into two middle schoolers as they crossed the street near Phillips Middle School last December 31. Cyclist Nicholas Watson died in February after being doored on Franklin Street.

In early September, 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. The bicyclist, a UNC student, was hit by a dump truck at the corner of Pittsboro and Columbia Streets.

Later in the month, a pedestrian was injured on Franklin Street. In December, another pedestrian was injured on MLK Blvd on December 9, 2022. Three weeks later, a pedestrian was killed on MLK Blvd after a car hit him. The collision happened around 7:40 p.m., near Taylor Street between Estes Drive and Homestead Road.

WCHL reported that there were 15 “pedestrian-involved crashes” as of December 9 – the incident on December 29 brings that total to 16. Recent pedestrian crashes are discussed at the Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board, but don’t always make it into the minutes. We have asked for an update on this matter.

Why does this keep happening?

As we noted back in September, we know our town councils’ have been advocating to make our streets safer.

But many of our streets aren’t controlled by the town. And our cyclists and walkers will continue to die or be seriously harmed if nothing changes.

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.”

Chapel Hill is doing a lot. It’s not enough.

We have been encouraged by Chapel Hill’s investments in street safety in the past year, including dedicated funding for safer bike lanes and sidewalks, plans for a North-South Bus Rapid Transit line that will include a path along MLK, and a renewed commitment to building greenways in Chapel Hill.

But all of this progress isn’t enough to address the present and clear danger of our streets. A letter to council that was sent on January 2 by Lauren Jarvis ends with this:

“What would it take to put in more street lights for better visibility? Or more radar signs to try to stop the rampant speeding on MLK?

I realize that these decisions are not the town’s alone. But, if the NCDOT is the biggest roadblock, please let us know so that people who want a safer Chapel Hill for all pedestrians and bikers can help push for change. “

What we can do

We agree with Lauren: If NCDOT is the biggest roadblock, then we must figure out how to take them on. NCDOT may claim to support Vision Zero, but their negligence has made our state one of the most dangerous in the country for pedestrians.

We fully expect more accidents to happen in 2023 because our streets are not safe. We’ll report when they happen, because This Regularly Happens.

This piece was written by Melody Kramer, Martin Johnson, and John Rees.

Data: The 2022 data has not yet been updated on the Vision Zero dashboard, so 16 is likely an underestimate – the number comes from WRAL reporting in December 2022. Currently, pedestrian and bike crash data is presented in the Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board meeting. However, it doesn’t appear in the minutes or appear to be tabulated elsewhere.

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.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....