RALEIGH — John Kats had the law on his side Thursday when he stepped into the wide, white-band crosswalk in front of the Hillsborough Street YMCA. But he knew the law alone would not deliver him safely across the busy street.
So he waited for a car and a delivery truck that zoomed in front of him, heading east. Then he walked to the middle of the street, paused to watch a westbound car, and finally made it to the other side.
They dont often stop, so Id rather wait than get hit, said Kats, 48, heading for his car after a morning workout. Im not going to trust them to stop.
This time, the law really was with him. Four Raleigh police officers on BMW motorcycles spent two hours Thursday chasing down drivers who broke the law by failing to yield for pedestrians in that crosswalk, including Y patrons and an officer clad in jeans and T-shirt.
It was part of Watch for Me NC, a safety education and enforcement campaign launched in August to reduce the car-pedestrian collisions that kill or injure 2,200 North Carolinians annually. In Raleigh, an average 150 pedestrians are hurt in accidents each year, and eight are killed.
This month, police departments across the Triangle are swarming around pedestrian danger zones on streets with high accident counts, and at crossings where researchers report that four out of five drivers fail to yield for folks on foot, as the law requires. Theyre handing out hundreds of safety brochures and, for now, just a few tickets.
Raleigh police Sgt. J.J. King, who coordinates traffic enforcement citywide, said his team stopped 51 crosswalk violators on Hillsborough Street. They missed more drivers who slipped through the net during periods when all four motorcycle officers were busy.
Six drivers were ticketed in cases the officers considered egregious violations, King said. There was one motorist who had plenty of time to stop for plainclothes officer Peter Manukas in the crosswalk, but instead swerved onto the shoulder and almost got away.
In most cases, instead of writing out a ticket, Durham and Raleigh officers this month will deliver a brief lecture and then leave the offending driver with a safety brochure and a written warning.
We give them something to hold on to, something tangible, King said. So hopefully its a bit more of a reminder than just telling them, Hey, you need to remember to stop for that pedestrian.
Watch for Me NC is planned as a statewide effort, but it started with a focus in the Triangle. Collaborators include local police and planning agencies, and the state Department of Transportation, with money from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The UNC Highway Safety Research Center analyzed pedestrian accident records to help police focus their efforts on streets with lots of pedestrians and histories of accidents. In campaigns starting this week in Raleigh and next week in Durham, the target areas include busy spots downtown and near campuses and transit centers.
Police added the Hillsborough crosswalk to their list at the request of Harvey Allen, a maintenance supervisor at the YMCA, who complained a few weeks ago after he narrowly avoided being hit by a car.
Manukas wore plain clothes Thursday so he would draw no more notice than the usual civilian. But he probably could have kept the motorcycle officers busy if he had been decked out in the official blue.
A couple of our officers went out in full uniform, hats on, the whole nine yards, King said. They stepped out into the intersection, and drivers still were not yielding right of way. So its definitely something we need to bring attention to.
Lucas Vandenberg, 30, told the officer who stopped his car that he had driven through the crosswalk because he had the impression that Manukas did not really intend to cross the street. But he didnt quibble about the law.
I think people should yield to pedestrians, Vandenberg said. Theyre trying to cross an extremely busy road here.
Drivers are the focus of the education campaign, but officers also are leaving brochures with jaywalkers. King had words Thursday with two men who angled across Hillsborough without bothering to use the crosswalk.
Charles Hilliard was glad to see the police attention. Walking his grandson, Josh, along the crosswalk with Manukas, he laughed triumphantly at a few drivers who waited to let them cross.
Yeah, maybe youll start stopping now, he shouted, pointing his finger at a red-and-white taxi.
Half of them wont stop, Hilliard, 58, said later. Theyll run you over. They keep zooming and zooming. And you have to stop in the middle of the street to keep them from hitting you.
Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/