CHAPEL HILL — New crosswalk and traffic signals were activated at a busy Franklin Street intersection Tuesday, almost a week after a police car hit two jaywalkers on the town's main drag.
Police used the occasion to hand out pedestrian safety tips on the corners of Church and West Franklin streets, where the $125,000 signals were installed July 24. "It's been needed for a long time, and we're just now getting around to it," Sgt. Jack Terry said.
Six accidents involving pedestrians have occurred at or near the intersection since 2001, including one in 2002 that killed a 77-year-old man.
The town of Chapel Hill had urged the state to put signals at the intersection for at least a decade. But it wasn't until early 2003 that the N.C. Department of Transportation determined there was enough foot traffic to merit them.
Town Council member Jim Ward said the 2002 fatality bolstered the town's case for new signals. "Unfortunately it seems like it takes a fatality of a pedestrian or a bicyclist to get some real movement, to get their attention," he said.
Despite the new signals, several pedestrians crossed Franklin on unmarked asphalt Tuesday.
Letter carrier Dave Rutter said postal workers have always saved time by crossing at McFarling's Exxon to get to University Square instead of walking to the Columbia Street crosswalk. He said he would cross at the new crosswalk if police insisted.
That route was quicker for Bob Hewitt and Chris Gibson, too.
"I reckon I'm getting lazy in my old age," said Hewitt, a contractor working at Granville Towers this summer. Hewitt noted that the private dorm's residents often cross at unmarked parts of West Franklin Street.
One of the safety tips on the fliers Tuesday advised pedestrians to cross at marked crosswalks only.
Jaywalkers could be slapped with a $10 fine and $110 in court fees, Terry said.
"I'm sure there will be some people who violate it," he said. "But for every person that uses the light, that's one less person putting themselves in harm's way."
Staff writer Jeremy Watson can be reached at 932-2025 or email@example.com.