Midtown Raleigh News

Safe-driving push stirs debate among Raleigh residents

Recent talks over a citywide safe-driving campaign have prompted an outpouring of responses from pedestrians and motorists who agree with the need for action.

Bob Gillen spent 30 years as salesman covering the Carolinas and part of Virginia. Now 72, the longtime Raleigh resident says drivers behave differently.

“Maybe I am just getting older, but I find that the aggressive driving in this city is increasing over the years,” Gillen said in an email. “Tailgating, horn blaring, no use of turning signals, cutting in and out of lanes, speeding on city streets, you name it.”

Gillen joined a debate that started when two City Council members described how they were nearly struck by cars while walking.

The experiences led Mary-Ann Baldwin and Bonner Gaylord to voice support for a public awareness campaign to discourage speeding.

Gaylord opposes a step under consideration in other communities: a ban on the use of cell phones while driving.

“We could (also) make people wear helmets in cars and they would be safer, but that’s not realistic,” Gaylord said. “It begins to be too much big brother. I don’t think we need to be getting in people’s cars and telling them what they can do.”

Instead, Gaylord said he favors public service announcements and more signage – including bollards installed in medians that instruct drivers to yield for pedestrians.

Gaylord, manager of North Hills, said such signs have changed habits at the shopping village. “People are a lot more respectful and aware,” he said.

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.”

Under former Mayor Charles Meeker, Raleigh spent money to improve conditions for walkers and cyclists. A $40 million transportation bond approved in October set aside $11 million for sidewalk construction and repair.

The city has also installed speed humps, jutted-out curbs, medians and pedestrian islands in neighborhoods that petition for them.

After completing four major traffic-calming projects in five years, Raleigh officials set a new goal of 13 per year, including three involving major renovations and eight to 10 that bring minor changes such as speed humps.

But the dangers can’t be solved by a few quick fixes, walking advocates say.

Pedestrians also must take responsibility, said Paula Wolf, who makes sure to lock eyes with drivers before walking across streets or driveways.

“Stopping before turning right is rare (for drivers),” Wolf, a North Raleigh resident, said in an email. “Right turn on red has become a race.”

Citywide, Raleigh police issued 13,818 speeding tickets in 2011, down from 14,638 in 2010, according to department figures.

Much of the focus has shifted to targeted enforcement in select areas where police get reports about speeding, said Lt. Tim Tomczak, a special operations supervisor. Next up for attention is St. Mary’s Street near downtown, where Baldwin was nearly struck last month near Tucker Street.

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.

Speeding isn’t just a problem on main thoroughfares, said Brian Leden, a resident of Five Points north of downtown.

“People drive so fast in this town on side streets it is ridiculous,” Leden said in an email. “I am glad that some City Councilors have had some of these experiences because you really do not realize how bad it is unless you try and walk somewhere.”