Like many Carrboro residents and visitors, I walk, bike, or drive on N. Greensboro St. daily. No matter the mode of transportation I’m using, I have witnessed reckless driving behavior.

As a pedestrian, I often cross N. Greensboro at Shelton Street, which is just past Southern States and right in front of Breakaway Cafe. Far too frequently, I enter the crosswalk and as I am crossing the street, the car in the oncoming lane does not stop. Sometimes the driver will see me and stop quickly, but I’ve had too many near misses. I’m far from the only pedestrian who’s nearly been hit.

Four years ago, a petition called for crosswalks on North Greensboro Street, citing the crosswalks put in place near Shelton Station and Oak Avenue Extension. But cars often do not heed the red flashing lights at the crosswalks, or yield to pedestrians as signs instruct them to do. It is scary and dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.

The crosswalk at Shelton Station is heavily used by parents walking their children to and from Carrboro Elementary. My friends who are parents frequently have to wait several minutes for traffic to clear before crossing — only for a driver in the opposite lane to blow past them. Even out-of-towners notice the speed and distraction of drivers: one recent evening I overheard a conversation at Dingo Dog Brewing Company where an out-of-towner asked their friends, “Do you feel safe here, I mean with the cars driving so fast?”

Walking home that night with my own out-of-town friend, we heard a driver accelerate from behind us to be going at least 50mph–a cool 30mph over the posted 20mph speed limit.

I cycle to work and shops, weather permitting. But I am increasingly avoiding cycling because of the high speeds of drivers on North Greensboro, Weaver Street, and Main Street, and because the unprotected bike lanes make me anxious. (I say this as a one-time fearless resident of Washington, D.C., for whom my bicycle was my favorite and often primary means of transportation. I sometimes see parents and elementary-aged kids biking on the North Greensboro bike lanes and wonder how they stomach the nerve-wracking unprotected bike lane.)

As much as I wish I could bike or walk everywhere, I do have to drive fairly often. I have been passed by impatient drivers who zoom around me in the oncoming traffic lane. I’ve seen wrecks on the sharp curve at Pleasant Drive. Chapelboro has many pieces on pedestrians struck and injured along these roads.

This is my experience, one I hear echoed by my neighbors, co-workers, and friends. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What can we change? And how?

I’m not the first to bring these issues to the forefront – there was the petition to make N. Greensboro safer, four years ago, and residents have been advocating for a sidewalk on S. Greensboro for more than a decade. And we know what works – as John Rees pointed out last year:

“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

Advocate at the state level to increase funding from NCDOT

But it’s hard, in part because our town doesn’t control these roads, NCDOT does.

I 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.”

Similarly, NCDOT controls the following roads in Carrboro:

  • Estes Drive Extension – SR 1780
  • N. Greensboro Street – SR 1972
  • S. Greensboro Street – SR 1919
  • Hillsborough Road – SR 1009
  • Highway 54 Bypass – SR 1010
  • Homestead Road – SR 1777
  • Jones Ferry Road – SR 1005
  • Main Street (54 Business) – SR 1010
  • Merritt Mill Road – SR 1927
  • Old Fayetteville Road – SR 1107/1037
  • Rogers Road – SR 1729
  • Smith Level Road – SR 1919
  • Protect the existing bike lanes

Along Greensboro, we could advocate for narrowing the travel lanes by protecting the existing bike lanes with a physical barrier. I always marvel after a snowstorm that we can see exactly where cars go – which is a narrower lane than what exists.

Narrower lane widths correlate to lower vehicle speeds. Perhaps a median could go between the bike lane and travel lane, or add striping and vertical posts like has been done on Franklin Street.

A 2019 study by Marshall & Ferenchak found that “improving bike infrastructure with more protected/separated bike facilities is significantly associated with fewer fatalities and better road safety outcomes for all road users.” (Though the article is behind a paywall, this blog post from StreetsBlogUSA summarizes the findings.)

Raise the crosswalks

Second, we can advocate for improving the pedestrian crossing at Shelton Street. Adding a nice raised crosswalk would “cause motorist speed to decrease at the crossing,” according to the US DOT Traffic Calming ePrimer. As well, the 3-6 inch height of a raised crosswalk “increases the visibility of a pedestrian in a crosswalk…[and] improves the line of sight for a pedestrian toward an oncoming vehicle.”

Another option could be turning the existing 2-way stop (on Shelton Street and Shelton Station driveway) into a 4-way stop.

Hire a transportation planner

Carrboro does not have a transportation planner on staff at the moment. This is a key position in the town that has remained unfilled for a long time.  Part of the responsibilities of this position are:

  • Managing the bicycle transportation planning process.
  • Co-managing the design process for bicycle and pedestrian transportation infrastructure projects
  • Preparing applications for bike/ped programs such as American League of Bicycles-Bicycle Friendly Communities, grant funding and related programs.

Filling this position is a first step in applying for grants that could make our town safer.

Our roads are not speedways. Pedestrians and bicyclists should not become casualties or experience repeated traumatizing near-misses. Our built environment can be made safer for everyone, and it should be.

 

Nancy Lovas lives in Carrboro and is a firm believer in being local. She volunteers at the Carrboro Farmers Market, works as a business and entrepreneurial librarian, and enjoys porch hangouts with neighbors.