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Cornelius News

A walker’s guide to safety:
Look both ways. Be patient and focused

Nov. 18. More people are walking outdoors amid a coronavirus pandemic that keeps many out of gyms and group exercise or fitness classes.

It’s smart for walkers and runners to keep in mind that crossing busy streets like Main Street, West Catawba Avenue, Torrence Chapel, Bethel Church and Jetton roads is risky if you’re not paying attention.

The state laws pertaining to pedestrians are simple enough:

• Pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections and driveways.

• However, pedestrians must act responsibly, using pedestrian signals where they are available.

• When crossing the road at any other point than a marked or unmarked crosswalk or when walking along or upon a highway, a pedestrian has a statutory duty to yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway.

• It is the duty of pedestrians to look before starting across a highway, and in the exercise of reasonable care for their own safety, to keep a timely lookout for approaching motor vehicle traffic.

• On roadways where there is no sidewalk, pedestrians should always walk facing traffic. Cornelius in the past several years has added pedestrian signals to create a safer crossing for pedestrians.

More pedestrian safety lights are coming.

“As our greenways expand, additional crosswalks with warning lights will be installed at busy street crossing,” Town Commissioner Denis Bilodeau said.  “New crosswalks are planned near Hough High for the Plum Creek greenway as well as Westmoreland Road for the McDowell Creek greenway extension.”

Are pedestrian signals working?

Chief Kevin Black

“We feel the pedestrian safety lights have made an impact on driver awareness,”  Cornelius Police Chief Kevin Black said.  “We routinely monitor crosswalks for violations.

“When monitoring the crosswalks that have warning/safety lights, we have found vehicles tend to heed the warning and stop when the lights are flashing,” the chief said.

Bilodeau says feedback on the new crosswalk lights is that “they are attention-grabbing, more so than the old static yellow lights.”

Unfortunately, warning lights are not 100 percent effective, Bilodeau notes.  In 2020,  there have been three police reports related to pedestrians in crosswalks: one in a marked crosswalk and an additional two in non-marked areas.

How many near misses there were is anyone’s guess.

These are the three reported incidents so far in 2020, according to police:

Jan. 26 at Bailey Road and  Oakhurst Boulevard. The driver was making a left turn and did not see the pedestrian who was wearing dark clothing.  The driver stated the pedestrian walked into his vehicle.  The estimated speed at impact was 13 mph.  The pedestrian stated their left knee was sore but refused transport by Medic.  No citation was issued.

March 25 at Creek Trail Land and Carrington Club Drive. The driver did not see the pedestrian and thought he may have been in his blind spot.  Estimated speed at impact was 4 mph.  The pedestrian was transported by Medic with a possible knee injury and scrapes.  No citation was issued.

Aug. 24 at Vineyard Point Lane and West Catawba Ave.  The driver was preparing to make a right turn and did not see the pedestrian.  The estimated speed at impact was 5 mph.  Injuries were suspected but none were listed.  The driver was issued a citation for Failure to Yield to Pedestrian.

“One incident is one too many,” Bilodeau said.

“Drivers and pedestrians should be focused and patient,” Bilodeau said.  “As a result of the pandemic, there are more walkers, runners and bicyclists on our town roads.  “The additional activity underscores the need to remain focused and patient.”

How to cross correctly

Police Chief Black said, “I encourage pedestrians to cross at marked crosswalks, when available, or at intersections where traffic is required to yield or stop.”

“If a pedestrian chooses to cross a street in any other location, it is the pedestrian’s responsibility to yield to the right of way to vehicles,” Black said. “Pedestrians should always look twice before stepping into a crosswalk, ensuring traffic is clear or approaching vehicles have stopped.”    

Bilodeau says he has seen pedestrians push the button for crosswalk warning lights and immediately step into the road.

“Pedestrians should watch for signs that oncoming traffic is slowing and maintain a watch for oncoming vehicles that may be shielded by a stopped auto,” he said.

“Be patient and wait until you are sure oncoming traffic is stopped.”

Black also advises bicyclists who cross within a marked crosswalk or unmarked crosswalk should always dismount and walk the bicycle across the walk.  “Bicyclists who choose to ride their bicycle across the walk are considered a vehicle, not a pedestrian,” he said.

Stuck in the middle

Sometimes, even careful pedestrians can find themselves safely across two of four lanes of traffic and stuck in the median  space because car traffic has resumed.

“When pedestrians find themselves stuck at an intersection like Jetton Road and Peninsula Club Drive, it is important that the pedestrian remain patient, waiting until traffic is clear before continuing across the roadway,” Black said.

“Remember, in this situation the pedestrian may be hidden from passing vehicles by the landscaping found in the median.

“For the safety of the pedestrian, it is important that they look closely, making sure traffic has cleared before crossing,” Black said.

The drivers’ role

“I believe there is a responsibility for safety on the part of all drivers as well as all pedestrians,” said Bilodeau, who is an insurance agent.

Drivers can be  distracted by many causes, he said, including other occupants of the car and, most often, cell phones.

 “Driving an auto is a huge responsibility. Respect the lives of your neighbors by focusing on the road at all times,” Bilodeau said. “It only takes a few seconds to make a tragic mistake.”

Driver education

Chief Black is a firm believer in driver education.

“Over time, drivers become complacent and driver education is a way to bring awareness to issues we may have forgotten about since our initial driver education training,” Black said.

“The “Watch for Me NC”  program (https://www.watchformenc.org/) is an excellent program that focuses on safety and education directed toward not only drivers, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well,” Black notes.

The Cornelius Police Department Traffic Safety Unit has been a partner of this program for several years, conducting public educational presentations to drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

The overall goal of the program is to reduce the number bicyclists and pedestrians hit and injured by vehicles, Black said.

If you think a crosswalk is unsafe

If  a resident is aware of an unsafe crosswalk, Bilodeau  recommends entering comments in Streets Smarts, which is located on the town’s website. Streets Smarts allows you to communicate with town staff and receive a response to your concern/question, he said.

The Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) regularly reviews comments from citizens on this website. The TAB monthly meetings include discussion and review of pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

Crossing is ‘very dangerous’

We are the second house away from the crosswalk on Jetton Road near The Peninsula Club so we see and hear plenty how well drivers do stopping. Lots of people do stop but still there are way too many that do not.  It’s a bad blind corner in both directions.  For drivers and people crossing, it’s very hard to see what is coming. 

To be honest, I am fearful for the life of my kids, wife, puppy, self and everyone that crosses there. Even though we use the crossing lights and wait for the nearby cars to stop still it’s very dangerous as there are plenty of drivers that blast on past the stopped cars with seemingly no idea that anyone is crossing.

Living so close I have heard plenty of close calls, sudden stops, horns blaring, and people crossing screaming for their life and understandably very upset with drivers almost hitting them. I have witnessed close calls.  And I have experienced them myself. 

Unfortunately, I think things have gotten worse as many people are driving faster on Jetton especially service trucks. We are so lucky that no one has been killed yet.  We really need to do more before it does happen.  It seems like it is only a matter of time.  I wish our leaders would help. They are the ones that can make a difference the easiest and fastest before something does happen.

—Bill Hart, who lives with his family just off Jetton