Backing grows for curbing dangerous driving in Durham neighborhoods

jwise@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2014 

— A drive toward cracking down on scofflaw drivers is gaining momentum, with backing from the InterNeighborhood Council (INC), Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission (BPAC) and some individual citizens.

“Let’s send a powerful message that speeding, distracted driving, irresponsible driving, and breaking traffic rules are not tolerated in Durham, especially in our neighborhoods,” Trinity Park resident Jessica Wolfe wrote in an email to City Council members last week.

That message, as written in an INC resolution ( bit.ly/1lm8UnQ), calls for the City Council to make traffic-law enforcement in residential areas “a significantly higher priority than has formerly been the case” for the Durham Police Department.

“We’re very happy INC picked up the issue,” said BPAC Chairman Erik Landfried. The commission endorsed the resolution “in principle” before it was in final form, and Landfried said he expects the commission to endorse the document itself when it meets later this month.

“We’ve been kicking this around for a while,” said Philip Azar, who led a group of INC delegates and other interested residents that came up with the resolution.

Among other points, the resolution which calls for police and the city manager’s staff to draw up a plan for traffic enforcement, and that police make regular public reports to the BPAC on the officers’ time and department resources spent on traffic enforcement, along with the results.

According to NCDOT data ( bit.ly/18kN1Ai), there was an average of 77.6 vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Durham from 2008 through 2012, with a total of 11 fatalities. In the same period there was an annual average of 23 bicycle-vehicle crashes, none fatal.

In 2013, Durham police conducted a “Crosswalk Enforce” operation, watching whether motorists yielded to pedestrians, as the law requires, at marked crosswalks on West Club Boulevard and Fayetteville Street. According to a report by Officer David E. Kulb ( bit.ly/18jmFP7) The yield rates were 25 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

Kulb’s report also cites NCDOT data that, from 2005 through 2009, Durham’s pedestrian crash numbers went up while other cities’ went down. In that time, Durham had the state’s third-highest rate of pedestrian crashes, though it was the state’s fifth largest city.

“This is unacceptable,” said Janice McCarthy of Trinity Park, who emailed her neighbors urging support for the resolution.

Durham has seen an “exponential increase in both pedestrian and bicycle traffic” in recent years, McCarthy wrote. “This is wonderful, but without change in driving behavior, it also presents increased danger,” she continued

“Being a pedestrian here is often terrifying and sometimes impossible,” wrote Wolfe, who said she cannot walk across Duke Street at some times of day because of traffic speed and volume.

“Walking on Duke and Gregson, despite the sidewalks, is terrifying, because cars that should be going 30 or 35 mph are whizzing by, inches away, at 60.”

Traffic safety has been a particularly sore point in Trinity Park, where Duke and Gregson streets are heavily used as connectors between the Durham Freeway and Interstate 85. But complaints of speeding, ignoring crosswalks and school zones and so on have come from other parts of town, too, for years.

In 2009, some Duke Park residents posted signs warning speeders that they might be shot with paintballs. Police advised that would be illegal. The city has installed neck-downs, traffic circles and speed humps to discourage fast driving.

Those measures are important along with enforcing speed limits and crosswalk laws, “ways to make the roads more difficult to speed on,” said Councilman Don Moffitt.

Moffit said he understands “concerns people have about wanting people to drive the speed limit and drive safely,” but he’s not ready to “have a public opinion” on the INC resolution. “We have lots of priorities in Durham,” he said.

Landfried said the Bicycle and Pedestrian commissioners favor stricter law enforcement, but “as part of a larger effort to improve traffic safety” including educating cyclists and pedestrians along with motorists on the rules of the roads and staying safe.

Azar is hoping to meet with police and city officials before presenting the resolution at a City Council work session later this spring.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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