DURHAM – Rachel Raney stood at the corner of Gregson Street and Minerva Avenue on Wednesday morning, waiting.
She wanted to cross two-lane, one-way Gregson to get to the sidewalk that runs along the perimeter of Durham School of the Arts. She stood at the edge of the street, where the prominent white hash marks traverse the intersection, and waited.
One car zoomed past, speeding through the school zone and ignoring the fact that motorists are supposed to yield for pedestrians at all crosswalks. A second car did the same. Three. Four. Five. Six.
Seven cars shot through the intersection without slowing down. Finally, with a break in traffic, Raney could cross.
“Nobody’s stopping,” she said. “No one’s yielding. That’s totally typical.”
Raney, who is a member of the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association’s traffic committee, led a group, including Mark Ahrendsen, director of the City of Durham’s transportation department, on a walk audit. Three groups broke off to cover separate routes, with Raney’s team following a path up to Buchanan and Duke University’s East Campus, down Main Street to Watts and Morgan, then down Watts to Minerva, Minerva to Gregson, Gregson to Main, Main to Duke, and then Duke to Trinity.
Ironically, along the route, Ahrendsen pointed out a pamphlet tossed on a lawn along Watts Street titled “What You Need to Know About North Carolina Crosswalks.”
Spots like the one at Gregson and Minerva are particularly challenging, Ahrendsen said, because of the two-lane, one-way feature. “You’ve got to make sure both lanes are stopping,” he said.
It was at this spot in the past few months that a cross-country runner from DSA was struck by a car that was passing another vehicle that had slowed appropriately to let her cross. The walk audit was organized in reaction to the accident, and many other close calls, as part of an ongoing effort to bring awareness to pedestrian dangers in the area.
“This girl’s 5-foot-8, wearing orange, on a crosswalk and she was with her coach,” said Rebecca Romaine, a DSA parent on Raney’s team. “This was not some little child darting out into traffic.”
At the meeting of Watts, Morgan and Main streets – a complicated area for pedestrians – Raney noted that she sees far too many timid walkers waving cars through rather than making motorists wait for them. This might tend to encourage poor behavior by drivers, she said.
“That’s probably coming from a place of fear,” Romaine said. “They don’t want any cars coming when they try to cross.”
Aaron Lubeck of Trinity Design joined the group as it passed his office on Gregson. When the team reached Duke and Corporation, right in front of DSA – another two-lane, one-way street – Lubeck and Raney tried their luck with the pedestrian crossing as cars approached. The car in the left lane started slowing well in advance of the crosswalk. The pickup truck in the right lane took longer to react, but ultimately stopped before reaching the hash marks. Lubeck and Raney made it across and back.
But as they stood in a group talking afterward, another pedestrian tried making the crossing from the opposite side and had to wait for six cars to fly by before a break in the traffic gave him the gap he needed. So, success at the crosswalks may rely a lot on luck of the draw as to whether motorists behind the wheel are aware that they’re supposed to stop for pedestrians, Raney said.
Next steps for the TPNA include taking information gathered from Wednesday’s walk audit to seek some fixes from the city and pursuing federal Safe Routes to School money to make pedestrian travel less hazardous for students at DSA and Watts Montessori Elementary School.
“Our hope is that we can identify some trouble spots that can be addressed relatively quickly and cheaply,” said Martin Steinmeyer, a TPNA member who led another group.
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