If you run a lot in charlotte then you have probably had a close call with a motor vehicle. It's a familiar story discussed after most long runs. There is the person only looking left, the truck ignoring the cross walk, the car running the stop sign or the bus rolling a red light at the intersection. Being a pedestrian in Charlotte does not just seem dangerous, it is. With 19 pedestrian deaths through August, the city is on pace for its fourth straight annual increase in pedestrian fatalities, up 35% from this time last year.
In response, the City of Charlotte has adopted the Vision Zero campaign with the ambitious goal of eliminating pedestrian fatalities by the year 2030. We talked with project manager Angela Berry to find out what the City is doing and what we can do as citizens and runners to help.
Vision Zero started in Sweden in 1997. It is a strategy to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and severe injuries, while increasing safety, health and mobility for all. What is an “acceptable” number of traffic fatalities? The answer is Zero. When we asked Angela what Vision Zero was for Charlotte, she explained that the focus was on community engagement to develop a data-driven action plan where we can combine education and personal responsibility with tangible infrastructure improvements to make Charlotte a safer place to live. That Action Plan began in May with the development of a communication strategy. The plan will finalize in December after cross-disciplinary workshops, community engagement and an October draft.
The process has already started with the “Vision Zero Task Force.” Chaired by CDOT, groups such as CMS, Police, Fire, Sustain Charlotte, Mecklenburg Co. Health Department and others have been meeting once a week for the past month to workshop, brainstorm and collaborate to develop a comprehensive framework for the Action Plan (approved as a part of the City Council adopted Transportation Action Plan). A mix of public, private and non-profits, each stakeholder brings their perspective and takes away their responsibilities from the meetings. Using CDOT’s guidance, members collaborate so that the plan’s framework is ready for the next step: Community Engagement.
From September through October, CDOT and the Vision Zero Task Force will be at public meetings, public libraries, pop-up events and OpenStreets704 to engage the public and ask them how they feel about being a pedestrian in Charlotte. The first meeting is September 7th at Charlotte Powerhouse. Berry says that “the goal is to go into the community and not make the community come to us”, so these are not Vision Zero specific events. Staff will be piggybacking off other meetings to try to engage as broad a group of citizens as possible.
As runners, we have a unique perspective and opportunity to let city officials know how we feel about sidewalks, intersections, speed limits, visibility, signage and/or anything else you notice while running around our city. If you cannot make a meeting, the City has created an interactive map for you to let them know about your experiences on Charlotte’s streets. Just follow the link, then click on the map to add what you have seen that needs improvement or to be addressed. While this data is for Vision Zero planning, If you have a more specific request you are adamant about you can also follow the 311 link at the bottom of the map intro page. This will walk you through requests such as sidewalk repair, traffic calming, clearing right of way obstructions, etc.
CLICK HERE TO USE THE INTERACTIVE MAP!
While CDOT will use the information from the task force and community engagement to target problem intersections and know where citizens feel problems exist, Angela’s real weapon is the data. A pedestrian struck at 20mph has a 9 in 10 chance of surviving a motor vehicle impact. A pedestrian struck at 40mph has only a 1 in 10 chance of survival. Vision Zero knows that accidents will happen; the goal is to eliminate loss of life when they do.
The City can perform street and traffic studies based on community input. By combining the data with problem locations (lack of crosswalks or locations notorious for speeders), driver and pedestrian education (learning who has the right of way and how and when to use crosswalks), police enforcement, and CDOT improvements we can lower the risk of a traffic fatality.
After talking about Vision Zero, I asked Angela what we could do as runners to stay safe. Her advice: “Make yourself as visible as possible. Wear bright or reflective clothing and obey the rules of the road.”
In efforts to make crossings safer, the City has added multiple crosswalks and pedestrian refuges across town. They have added bright yellow signs and painted or texturized them as well. We asked Angela how to use them: “As a runner, you have the right of way at an unsignalized crosswalk like those in South End… but that doesn’t mean you should run out expecting cars to stop for you. Make eye contact with the driver and make sure they are aware you are going to cross”.
Our members spend hours each week (sometimes each day) running and walking around our city. Use this as your chance to add input that may change an intersection, lower a speed limit, fix a sidewalk, or maybe even save a life.