Group wants crackdown on traffic scofflaws

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 3, 2014 

— Some citizens concerned about pedestrians’ and cyclists’ welfare want Durham police to put a priority on enforcing the traffic laws.

“I’m not saying this ought to be up there with the homicides, but the issue is it should be a priority,” said Philip Azar, co-chairman of an InterNeighborhood Council committee on traffic. It, and some members of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, are working on a resolution to the City Council pushing for more stringent enforcement and suggesting 10 specific actions to improve the situation.

“While this has consistently been an issue on a location-by-location basis and an individual-neighborhood basis, it is actually a community-wide and city-wide issue that needs a real priority and a plan assigned to it,” Azar said.

According to data from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, Durham averaged 99.8 vehicle-pedestrian collisions in the five years 2006 through 2010 ( bit.ly/JIpH3D), fifth highest average in the state, and 36.6 bicycle-vehicle crashes ( bit.ly/1do81G4), tied with Greensboro for fourth highest.

From 2001 through 2010, Durham averaged 100 pedestrian collisions and 33 bicycle crashes per year.

Among other things, the group wants the City Council to give the police three months to come up with a traffic enforcement plan that includes an easy way for residents to request extra police presence in particular areas. Currently, the police website’s Frequently Asked Questions just advises getting in touch with the local substation.

The enforcement plan would also include a policy statement on the use of personnel, vehicles and equipment to enforce traffic laws “as opposed to accident investigation, motorized escort, community outreach, traditional law enforcement or other priority.”

The resolution also calls for regular, public reports on enforcement actions and a dedicated, specially trained traffic enforcement squad to be deployed around the city “on a roving, periodic, unannounced basis.”

“A big part of police life is dealing with emergencies,” Azar said. “Only the police can give people tickets. So if you don’t have a (police) group that is somewhat isolated from all the other emergencies that the police have on a regular daily basis … (traffic enforcement) will always be a priority no one every gets around to.

“There ought to be enforcement for speeding when you’re sober, in neighborhoods.”

Hot-button issue

Azar lives in Trinity Park, where traffic enforcement became a hot-button issue after a Durham School of the Arts student was hit by a car as she crossed Duke Street. But residents all around town have complained to each other and to authorities for years about scofflaw drivers speeding along their neighborhood streets.

The city has installed neck-downs, traffic circles and speed humps. In 2007, the Police Department began a “Pace Car” program: motorists signed a one-year pledge to abide by the speed limits, stop for red lights, stop signs and pedestrians and be considerate of cyclists, and got a Pace Car magnet to display.

About 1,000 citizens took the pledge but, by 2009, the Pace Car program was on hold for lack of funding. Some Duke Park residents posted signs warning speeders that they might be shot with paintballs. Police advised that would be illegal, and PAC-2 leaders Cheryl Shiflett and Bill Anderson persuaded police to revive the Pace Cars.

In 2012, Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Carboro were the pilot are for Watch 4 Me NC, a state project to publicize pedestrian and bicycle safety and let drivers know what the laws are. In 2013, Azar and his colleagues began drafting their resolution.

That draft is out for comment by the InterNeighborhood Council and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission members, and Azar said he hopes the neighborhhood council will adopt it and send it on for the City Council’s consideration in February or March.

“We have neglected this in Durham … for a decade,” Azar said. “Let’s be sure we’re … protecting vulnerable people who are walking or riding bikes.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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