Going for a walk? You should probably be a bit more careful crossing the street if your route takes you downtown, near UNCG or past a bus stop.
Especially if you’re venturing out near the end of the week. And if it’s after 3 p.m. ... in the fall or early winter.
A recent study of car-pedestrian crashes in the Greensboro area ranked the center city, university area and bus stops in general among the most likely spots for collisions that inflict the most serious injuries.
Looking at five years of statistics, Greensboro transportation planners found pedestrians most at risk on Fridays and Saturdays, between 3 and 9 p.m., during the last four months of the year.
The study provides a snapshot of where, when and why cars plow into people on foot. It offers clues to how pedestrians can avoid becoming crash statistics, said Daniel Amstutz, the coordinator of Greensboro’s pedestrian and bicycle program.
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“This is definitely a tool,” Amstutz said. “It’s useful for us to see where the problems are.”
Planners are already working on changes to the intersection of Walker Avenue and South Aycock Street — on UNCG’s western perimeter — identified as the city’s most risky spot for foot travel.
Designers are readying improvements that will cost more than $170,000 to rework the four corners so that they offer walkers more protection, make the crosswalks more visible with “zebra-style” street graphics and eliminate a northbound lane on Aycock that puts pedestrians in greater jeopardy by lengthening the time they’re exposed to onrushing traffic.
City officials also reacted by joining “Watch for Me NC,” a new initiative by the N.C. Department of Transportation to improve safety for walkers and bicyclists. Other local participants include UNCG and N.C. A&T.
City police and officers from the universities went through Watch For Me NC training last week at UNCG , including the ins and outs of state laws protecting pedestrians and bike riders.
“It’s an education and enforcement campaign to reduce pedestrian and bicycle injuries,” said James Gallagher of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “It’s aimed at making sure everyone knows what the law says they need to do, as well as what to do to be safe.”
Last year’s statistical study by Greensboro planners pointed out that the city and its suburbs rated fifth highest among North Carolina’s 17 urban-transportation divisions for pedestrian crashes for every 100,000 residents, just behind the Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan statistical area. With 36 car-pedestrian crashes for every 100,000 residents during the study period, Greensboro’s rate was twice that of Winston-Salem’s and about a third greater than High Point’s.
Hundreds of accidents
The local study completed last fall considers the years 2007 through 2011, the latest year fully vetted by analysts at the state DOT in Raleigh.
Researchers attributed about half the 660 pedestrian accidents during that time to driver error, 38 percent to the person on foot and 6 percent to mistakes made by both.
In addition to downtown and UNCG, the report identified other high-risk areas for pedestrians along much of High Point Road and on Summit Avenue, from East Bessemer Street to Textile Drive.
South Eugene Street claimed two of the city’s three most dangerous intersections for people on foot — at its crossroads with West Lee and Whittington streets.
Greensboro sustained a yearly average of 132 crashes involving pedestrians from January 2007 through December 2011, the study found. Since then, city police investigated 143 such accidents during 2012, 124 last year and 73 to date in 2014.
The number of pedestrians killed by cars fluctuated widely during the five-year study period, from a high of seven in 2010 to a low of one the next year. In the years since, the city recorded 10 pedestrian deaths in 2012, six last year and one so far during 2014, according to police statistics.
The study found two of three car-pedestrian crashes happened within a quarter-mile of a Greensboro Transit Authority stop. Two of the most accident-prone bus stops were at Eugene and West Market streets, and on Davie Street at the Cultural Arts Center.
Buses trigger a lot of street crossings, Amstutz said.
“The bus might stop on one side, and you’re hurrying to get across the street to a store or restaurant,” he said.
Both he and Gallagher urged pedestrians to take the extra time to walk to a safe crossing area rather than simply dashing across the street, even if it adds significant time and effort.
Bus riders should cross the street behind a stopped bus, Gallagher said, because that gives a better line of sight to both them and oncoming motorists.
To make full use of the study’s statistics, planners need more data on the number of pedestrians in areas with a lot of crashes. That would help show which areas rank high because of design problems that jeopardize walkers and which are used so heavily they simply provide more opportunities for things to go awry, Amstutz said.
He and other traffic planners weren’t surprised by the differences in car-pedestrian crashes by time of day and season. For one thing, as afternoon turns toward evening, the light wanes, making people on foot more difficult for motorists to spot and perhaps lessening the pedestrian’s visual skills. As autumn advances, dusk arrives earlier in the day.
“And as it gets later in the day, people may not be thinking about what they’re wearing and they may be wearing dark clothing,” Amstutz said, noting that makes them more difficult for drivers to see.
The Watch For Me NC initiative will roll out later this summer with educational advertising, followed by stepped-up enforcement, especially for motorists who don’t yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and who commit other infractions that put walkers at risk.
Many walkers get hit as a motorist turns either left or right while focusing so intently on maneuvering the car, he or she doesn’t see the pedestrian until it’s too late, Gallagher said.
North Carolina law gives pedestrians wide latitude, he said, noting that the state does not explicitly ban what is called “jaywalking” in other states.
“North Carolina law allows pedestrians to cross the street almost anywhere they want,” Gallagher said.
But outside of a crosswalk, motorists get the right of way. And state law says pedestrians may not block or impede traffic “when they do not have the right of way,” Gallagher said.
“If a sidewalk is not present, they need to be walking facing traffic,” he said.
Greensboro traffic planners also believe the city’s lack of sidewalks along parts of major streets plays a role in pedestrian peril. Work is under way now adding sidewalks along East Wendover Avenue, West Market Street and Walker Avenue.
Sidewalk plans in the next few years call for additions to Randleman, Pisgah Church and Yancey ville roads; to English and Florida streets; and to Friendly and Phillips avenues.
“In the next 10 years, we’re going to build more than 100 miles of sidewalk,” Amstutz said.
But all the sidewalks in the world won’t protect pedestrians if they don’t use them wisely and if motorists ignore crosswalks, Gallagher suggested.
After all, it’s not as if motorists and walkers are two, completely different species.
“The minute you step out of your car,” Gallagher said, “you’re a pedestrian again.”