PINE KNOLL SHORES — County law enforcement and the N.C. Highway Patrol will be out in force during the Memorial Holiday weekend to protect pedestrians as the summer kicks into gear.
Town Police Chief Ryan Thompson is spearheading the initiative.
His town has crosswalks to help guide pedestrians across busy Highway 58, but keeping pedestrians safe isn’t just about getting to and from the beach. It impacts other areas of the county, as well.
The goal of the initiative is to educate and, when need be, enforce to raise awareness.
Chief Thompson said in March, while researching ways to educate the public on pedestrian safety, he found a statewide program online at WATCHforMeNC.org and contacted them.
The program is a comprehensive one, run by the N.C. Department of Transportation in partnership with local communities and aimed at reducing the number of pedestrians and cyclists hit and injured in crashes with vehicles.
The program involves two key elements: safety through education directed toward drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, and enforcement efforts by area police to crack down on the violations of traffic safety laws.
Carteret County has more pedestrians on average than any other county in the state and the numbers increase annually, according to Chief Thompson.
In 2013, Pine Knoll Shores installed two pedestrian crosswalks at Mimosa Boulevard and Juniper Road. A third was added at the Hampton Inn in 2014.
Even with the crosswalks, the speed limit near the Hampton Inn remained at 45 mph, but now it’s lowered to 35 mph.
“Everything that is done has to be in coordination and with the approval of Department of Transportation,” Chief Thompson said. “We’ve made countless requests (to NCDOT) since the crosswalks were put in for additional signage to bring attention to the crosswalks.”
Since the crosswalks have been put in, the chief said motor vehicle crashes in that area of Highway 58 have doubled as drivers fail to slow down.
“(The wrecks) are all focused at and around the crosswalks and are an area of concern,” he said.
Although it was once proposed that the crosswalks be removed, he said the citizens banded together to keep them and he was charged with coming up with ways to mitigate the issue with traffic.
He began contacting other jurisdictions countywide to initiate a program to address pedestrian safety.
“I contacted the other agencies and got their full support,” he said. “They are ready to participate.”
He said Watch for Me NC not only accepted the application, but chose Pine Knoll Shores as one of eight departments accepted statewide. The big plus was having the support of other county agencies.
Since acceptance, Watch for Me NC has provided free training in pedestrian safety and enforcement for officers, as well as educational materials such as pamphlets, posters, bumper stickers and free radio advertising designating Pine Knoll Shores as a pedestrian-friendly community.
“In turn, we make a commitment to host educational seminars on pedestrian and bike safety countywide. North Carolina is one of the least safe states for pedestrians and bikers,” Chief Thompson said. “Last year, 2,400 pedestrians and 960 bicyclists were struck by a motor vehicle. Over the last several years, there have been three pedestrians struck and killed in Carteret County.”
He said pedestrian safety is not just a priority for the police department, but is a concern for the N.C. Aquarium and the Trinity Center, as well as all the hotels, private homes, special events and condominiums along the beach strand.
“So, this is a joint effort. It’s not a Pine Knoll Shores effort so we get all the kudos,” the chief said. “This is all the jurisdictions and the Highway Patrol who have recognized the dangers and have the same concerns we do.”
He said the goal is to educate and come at it from every angle and at the end of the day, to make the county safer for pedestrian and cyclists.
“I hope we don’t have to write any tickets during Memorial (Day) weekend,” he said. “Writing a ticket is not the goal. Safety is the goal. But, if a driver doesn’t show respect for a pedestrian or cyclist, we will be writing a ticket.”
Contact Helen Outland at 252-726-7081, ext. 211; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @helenccnt.