Midtown Raleigh News

Safe driving campaign urged

City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin was walking her dog on St. Mary’s Street near downtown last month when she was nearly struck by a car whizzing past.

Last week, Councilman Bonner Gaylord was headed on foot to a council meeting when a car almost hit him at McDowell and Hargett streets.

The frightening near-misses led Baldwin and Gaylord to voice support for a public awareness campaign to discourage speeding.

Baldwin, a downtown resident and avid walker, urged the city’s public affairs staff to come up with publicity materials “to raise the level of consciousness about this.”

It “doesn’t matter where I go speak, speeding through neighborhoods is a major issue everywhere,” Baldwin said.

The staff will develop some options, but it’s too early to say what direction the campaign will take, said public affairs director Jayne Kirkpatrick.

Gaylord said his own near-miss served as a jolting reminder of the dangers facing pedestrians.

About 2,500 pedestrians are struck by cars in North Carolina each year, with about 170 of them killed and an additional 240 injured seriously.

The risk has become greater because of the distractions caused by smart phones and mobile devices, experts say.

Raleigh has sought to become a more walkable city. A $40 million transportation bond approved in October set aside $11 million for sidewalk construction and repair.

The city installs traffic-calming tools, such as islands and curbing, in neighborhoods that ask for changes. A new development code will encourage compact, mixed-use development.

Maybe Matt Tomasulo, creator of the handmade “Walk Raleigh” signs, could contribute some innovative ideas to the anti-speeding campaign, Baldwin said.

Tomasulo, 29, has earned praise in urban planning circles for his signs, equipped with arrows that help people walk to nearby landmarks.

“If Matt wanted to go out and create something, I’d be OK with that,” Baldwin said.

In an interview, Tomasulo said he’s been busy with the “Walk Raleigh” initiative and doesn’t have much free time to take on another issue.

Some communities are passing new measures. Chapel Hill could soon ban the use of cell phones while driving. The measure could be written to include hands-free devices, though town leaders are still debating the language.

The National Transportation Safety Board pushed the issue into the national spotlight with a report in December 2011 recommending all states ban drivers from using cell phones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies.

North Carolina has already banned texting while driving for all drivers, and both hands-free and hand-held devices for drivers under the age of 18.