Editorial: Traffic: Pedestrian Safety: Quick Focus Is Required

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 22 May 2019 18:29

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

For second time this year a pedestrian has been hit by a vehicle when crossing Lake Park Blvd in Carolina Beach.

The first accident in March resulted in serious injury to a grandmother and the death of her infant grandchild while crossing at the intersection of Lake Park Blvd and Cape Fear Blvd.

We have a problem. We all need to acknowledge this problem. That problem is: Traffic on Lake Park Blvd. It has increased to the point that it threatens the lives of pedestrians walking and riding bikes.

Our town as - well as neighboring cities - have allowed development to occur over the years without mechanisms in place to examine the impacts of additional traffic. And when a "traffic study" was required for certain projects (in rare cases) it was largely done by firms working for those developers rather than an independent third party. (Fox - Hen - House).

So here we are. 2019. And traffic in Carolina Beach along Lake Park Blvd has become a huge nightmare and a black mark in terms of a perceived lack of planning on the part of our leaders to control development trends and a lack of willingness to say "NO" to large scale developments that add additional traffic to our already overburdened Lake Park Blvd.

The Town was notified by the North Carolina Department of Transportation years ago that Lake Park Blvd was a concern in terms of being beyond the designed capacity and the resulting congestion.

Every time the Council has considered a new commercial development along that major thoroughfare over the past decade or more, they have questioned the impact to traffic congestion, but only on a case-by-case basis. What's needed is an overall plan for the entire length of Lake Park Blvd. Not just data provided by the very people proposing to build commercial developments.

If the Town Council doesn't reign in development along Lake Park Blvd with additional controls that promote lower density development, there will come a time in the not so distant future when motorists will find it so frustrating to traverse that road that they will venture to other areas of the County rather than "Busy Carolina Beach". Or worse, they won't  be deterred and they'll continue to pour in and congestion will increase.

And for those that do still brave the floods of traffic jams, there will be an increase in accidents where people may die due to automobile collisions.

This isn't a new revelation, it's been creeping up on us slowing but surely for years.

Exactly like the old analogy  of the Frog in a pot. Put him in boiling water and he'll jump out. Put him cold water and slowly raise the temperature and he'll boil before he knows what happened.

That's Lake Park Blvd in Carolina Beach. It's been a slow - albeit uncontrolled - pot of increasingly hotter water, but here we are - vehicles not stopping at crosswalks and in the most recent horrible set of circumstances, an infant was killed when a motorist hit the infant and a grand mother when turning at an intersection on Lake Park Blvd.

Now consider that at the same intersection, in the future a major commercial redevelopment will take place potentially adding a substantial number of vehicle trips within that immediate area. That will further drive up the possibility for future heartbreaking traffic-pedestrian accidents.

The only solution is to put the brakes on immediately through an official vote of Council until the Town's Zoning ordinance can be amended to prevent development in the interim until the Town leaders can vote on a more controlled plan for growth with an eye on pedestrian safety. Only then can the Town get back to growing it's commercial base with a focus on capacity and safety.

As growth continues in our County with thousands of new residential units being built, it's time to take a serious look at conducting a professional traffic study.

Our elected leaders budget money for all manner of necessary expenditures. Police, fire, water, sewer, and other services. They spend money on parks, paving roads, etc.

Yet, when it comes to safety, it's always a reactive expenditure rather than a resulting decision based on sound intelligent planning initiative.

Reactive, rather than Proactive, in the case of pedestrian safety at crosswalks, is a bad way to operate especially when development and traffic growth is so evident. And in the defense of Carolina Beach elected officials, they have on regular occasions raised the issue with genuine concern, yet nothing concrete has been brought forward for their consideration outside of additional crosswalks with lights and painted lines.

That works for some streets (debatable), but for four way intersections on Lake Park Blvd, with such high vehicle and pedestrian volume, something new needs to be done quickly.

Until the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Town can arrive at a solution for these high traffic intersections, the Town Council should approve funding for traffic officers. Either hire more police officers or pay their Parking Enforcement contractor to hire personnel to man these intersections along Lake Park Blvd at four way crossings.

These officers can be visible beacons to both drivers and pedestrians and create a drastically increased awareness at those two intersections (Lake Park and Carl Winner and Lake Park and Cape Fear Blvd.) We hire lifeguards to watch over the lives of people swimming in the ocean. We should also hire personnel properly trained in traffic control to keep our street crossing pedestrians safe during their time frequenting our downtown business district.

As more and more people move to New Hanover County and traffic increases, I'd rather the Town devote resources to pedestrian safety to prevent our Town from becoming known as a pedestrian-unfriendly Town, and more promoted as a pedestrian friendly Town.

To date this year, two vehicles have hit pedestrians along Lake Park Blvd within a few months. Hopefully this isn't becoming a trend, but right now is the time to take action. Town officials met with State DOT officials recently regarding measures to increase pedestrian safety along Lake Park Blvd and along other streets including those intersecting with bike and pedestrian paths.

While Town leaders are making a noble effort to address safety, in the interim they should hire a two or three people trained to direct pedestrian and vehicle traffic at key intersections until a better solution is decided upon.

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