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Effort to improve pedestrian safety begins with survey of walkers in downtown Raleigh

Tia Chapman doesn’t know why the driver of the car hit her as she walked in the crosswalk on Lane Street in downtown Raleigh, because he drove off before they could speak.

But Chapman doesn’t want anyone else to get hit while walking downtown, which is why she joined other state workers early Thursday to hand out flyers drawing attention to a new pedestrian safety study.

WalkSmartNC is an effort of the Office of State Human Resources, with financial support from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. It begins with a survey, available online through Nov. 8, that asks about people’s experiences walking downtown and what they think would make it safer.

A separate interactive map lets people pinpoint places they consider unsafe for pedestrians and why. There’s also an optional app that tracks your route, to help the researchers determine which areas are most heavily used by pedestrians.

The goal is to create a set of recommendations for improving pedestrian safety, both in downtown Raleigh and other communities across the state.

While anyone can take the survey and provide feedback, the study is focused around the State Government Complex, an area bound by Hargett, Peace, Person and Dawson streets where state employees are most likely to be on foot

“This is our work environment,” Chapman said. “State employees shouldn’t feel compromised in our work environment.”

Chapman had recently joined the state Department of Public Safety’s human resources office last November when she was hit. She had just picked up her state ID badge and was headed back to her office when she went to cross Lane Street at the intersection with McDowell Street.

When the crosswalk signal turned green, she says, she took about four steps into the crosswalk before a car in the curb lane began moving, pushing her out into McDowell. The driver was apparently starting to make a right turn on the red light. Chapman said she managed to stay on her feet and screamed for him to stop.

“I was stunned,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Chapman said the man stopped, rolled down his window and asked if she was alright. She says she said no and suggested they call police, but when the man turned the corner he kept going. She says she had bruises on her leg and hip and a herniated disk and missed six days of work.

The number of pedestrians killed in collisions with cars and trucks declined dramatically nationwide between 1980 and 2009. But since then, it has risen, both nationwide and in North Carolina. Since bottoming out at 148 in 2009, the number of pedestrians killed each year in the state has risen 54 percent, more than five times the rate of population growth during that time.

The WalkSmartNC survey hopes to go deeper into the issue than you can simply looking at data on deaths and injuries, said Scarlette Gardner, director of state Division of Safety, Health and Workers Compensation.

“You constantly hear about near misses,” Gardner said.

Gardner was out early Thursday, too, handing out flyers about the survey to state workers as they pulled into the parking deck off McDowell Street, near the intersection where Chapman was hit.

“The more people that fill it out the better,” she said. “We’re all sharing the roads; we’re all sharing the sidewalks.”

For more information about WalkSmartNC, including links to the survey and interactive map, go to downtownraleighpedsafety.com/.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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