As pedestrian deaths increase, officials and advocates take measures to enhance safety

Michael Perchick Image
Tuesday, July 11, 2023
Pedestrian deaths increase despite number of crashes remaining steady
EMBED <>More Videos

The number of pedestrian deaths increased from 228 to 270 between 2018 and 2022, despite the number of crashes remaining steady.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As Raleigh police officers continue to investigate two pedestrian-related crashes along Capital Boulevard over the past few days, state officials are working to improve safety.

Saturday night, a man was hit and killed in the southbound lane of Capital Boulevard near Calvary Drive. Police said the victim did not use a nearby crosswalk.

"We tried to block the cars from hitting him. They were about to run us over. We tried to put shopping carts in the road and another friend of mine stopped his car in the third lane from the far left, and if he hadn't parked there they probably would have run us over," said Marvin Canty, a friend of the victim.

Wednesday morning, a vehicle driving along the 3500 block of Capital Boulevard swerved to avoid a pedestrian who stepped into the roadway, and struck a pick-up truck. Three people were taken to the hospital, one with serious injuries.

According to NCDOT, the number of pedestrian deaths increased from 228 to 270 between 2018 and 2022, despite the number of crashes involving pedestrians last year remaining largely in-line with the five-year average.

One of those deaths was 12-year-old Samantha Briggs, who was hit and killed in a hit-and-run crash on Hillsborough Street near Bashford Road in November.

"To think that they would -- whoever did it -- that they would leave her lying in the street -- a child. (They) didn't even stop, because minutes could have made a difference. She might have put her in the car and tried to make it to the hospital," said Sylvia Wiggins, Briggs' aunt.

In June, Raleigh Police Department announced it had arrested a husband and wife in connection with the case. Warrants obtained by ABC11 accused Blanca Iris Escobar of being the driver behind the wheel in the crash; afterwards, she met up with her husband, Wilmer Morales Roblero, and the pair drove to Franklin County where they burned the vehicle.

Police said Briggs was not in a crosswalk at the time, though there is no crosswalk along that stretch of Hillsborough Street, a site which also does not have a sidewalk. Wiggins would like to see more safety measures enacted to prevent future crashes, including adding stop lights, traffic safety lights and walkways.

"It really needs to be quickly done. I don't mean talking about it. It needs to be done. You have big trucks and trailers running up and down, and when you have that Walnut Creek Amphitheater and something going on, you got all these crowds. It is the worst you've seen," Wiggins said.

Shawn Troy, a state traffic safety engineer for NCDOT, highlighted steps the agency is taking as it constructs new roadways and evaluates existing ones.

"We have a pedestrian safety improvement program, that's part of our highway safety improvement program. The core areas of that program is to try and reduce fatalities and severe injuries in the areas of lane departure crashes, frontal impact crashes and pedestrian crashes. Within that pedestrian arena, we're trying to do things that can help a pedestrian be able to stand out, such as at an intersection, by (adding) crosswalks, pedestrian heads, making changes to the signal timing to what's called a leading pedestrian interval, where it gives an opportunity for a pedestrian to start crossing before the left turn starts," said Troy.

NCDOT also works with local cities and towns in providing guidance. One such result was the City of Raleigh's decision to ban turning right on red from Peace Street to MLK Jr. Boulevard, between Glenwood Avenue and East Street earlier this year, which made the move based off a report by NCDOT engineers following the January 2019 death of a state employee who was struck and killed.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, pedestrian deaths in 2022 were projected to hit its highest mark since 1981, nearly doubling over the past dozen years. The sharp rise comes following three decades of steady decreases in the category.

"There's a lot of different factors at play. A few of them involve the changing size and speed of the vehicles on our roadways. Also the role of arterial streets, the busy or higher speed streets that carry more traffic. And that's where the majority of pedestrian deaths are happening and where they're increasing. We also see that in general, our roadway design doesn't really support people on foot, (it's) mainly intended for moving motor vehicles. So that's another big cause. Also, lighting and visibility has been a major player. We have a lot of crashes, pedestrian deaths that occur at night, and those are rising over time as well," said Dan Gelinne, a senior research associate with the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.

Gelinne believes there are measures that can be implemented to improve safety.

"Trying to set limits at what we know are safe speeds and then change our roadway design to reflect those safe speeds, narrowing roadways, putting in medians, other things roundabouts that kind of reduce those speeds," Gelinne explained, adding there are pilot programs that towns and cities can participate in as a low-cost way to test which strategies are most effective.

Another suggestion: increasing public transportation.

"We see that cities and areas that have more trips taken by transit compared to by motor vehicle tend to be safer overall for all road users. You're minimizing or decreasing the amount of traffic on the road," Gelinne said.