‘Vision Zero’ efforts fewer car fatalities after rise in North Carolina 2020

More than 1,650 people dead on the roads in 2020, the highest number since 2007
During the pandemic in 2020, we drove less. The result statewide was fewer crashes.
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 4:17 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - On the surface, it makes no sense.

During the pandemic in 2020, we drove less. The result statewide was fewer crashes.

The North Carolina DMV says they were down 13 percent and injuries were down 16 percent.

But the traffic deaths were up 13 percent. More than 1,650 people dead on the roads in 2020, the highest number since 2007,

One of those killed in 2020 was Robert Jordan.

Police say Jordan was hit and killed by a drunk driver, who left the scene and by doing that left Jordan.

His family set up a vigil on the one-month anniversary of his death.

The purpose was to shed light on a growing problem.

“But it’s more important that people riding up and down the street right here, they see his face and know that he will not ever be forgotten,” Jordan’s sister Damaris Simpson said. “It hurts us a lot.”

In Mecklenburg County, over the past 10 years, we’ve averaged 83 lives lost on our roads. In 2020, it was 125, an increase of 125 percent.

It’s a troubling trend for a community that just three years ago launched Vision Zero, a road safety initiative with the ambitious goal of eliminating traffic fatalities in the city of Charlotte by 2030.

How realistic is it?

“And that’s a good question. And I get that pushback on some of the Twitter accounts,” said Angela Berry, Traffic Safety Program Manager for the Charlotte Department of Transportation.

Berry is leading this effort.

Vision Zero is not new, but given the trend lines, we thought we should reintroduce it to you.

The initiative looks to reduce the severity of crashes by doing a few things. For one infrastructure change, think sidewalks, bike lanes, street lighting, signal improvements.

Here’s one example: Flashing lights at crosswalks.

The blinking gets the attention of drivers. It is helpful because we have seen an increase in pedestrian deaths. The other major part of this is enforcement. Speeding is a factor in 44 percent of the traffic fatalities in the city.

In 2020, speed limits were reduced to 25 mph on 181 local streets.

Jamie Boll: The biggest challenge you face to get to zero is what?

Angela Berry: So many challenges. Part of it is looking at our city and the way we developed in a very auto-centric city. And we want to be a very walkable, bicycle, friendly, multimodal city. And so, retrofitting to achieve those things can be really challenging, and take time. And I would say that’s probably my biggest challenge, is just time. I would like to wave a magic wand and have no more fatal and serious injury crashes tomorrow.

Jamie Boll: If the goal is zero, what’s the strategy to get there? Obviously multipronged?

Angela Berry: Correct. Yes, sir.

Jamie Boll: Can you touch on some of those?

Angela Berry: So we are doing things across the department. We are using those fatal and serious injury crash locations where we’re seeing higher incidences of fatal and serious injury crashes, to drive our capital investments in the city’s infrastructure, so that we can provide you better opportunities to utilize the infrastructure in the safest most possible way.

Jamie Boll: Give me an example of something that’s happened.

Angela Berry: So, on the plot just north of where the plaza makes that weird little turn, we have a higher incidence than normal of fatal crashes along crossing a long distance between crossing opportunities.

We are designing and installing a pedestrian-operated signal to go in that stretch so that pedestrians who want to go from let’s say, Plaza Midwood to NoDa had the opportunity to cross the plaza safely without traveling long distances to get to a traffic signal that was still in progress.

Jamie Boll: Is there something that you can point to that you’ve already done that you’re already seeing good results from?

Angela Berry: So one of them, our bike program manager is working on an uptown cycling project to basically link the Greenway on the east side of the city to the Greenway on the west side of the city.

And this is one of the first projects that he put on the ground. He’s very excited about it, took advantage of resurfacing prioritize this, took away a lane and added a buffered bike lane. So great infrastructure for bicyclists who want to travel through uptown.

Jamie Boll: Are you seeing progress? Can you with the data say, ‘You know what, we’re starting to see some hopeful signs here?’

Angela Berry: I wish I could. And unfortunately, I’m not seeing that change.

That is the frustrating part and it is also where enforcement comes in.

We mentioned speeding is a major issue. Distracted driving is as well.

CMPD is part of the Vision Zero Task Force.

Detective Justin Kupfer is the department’s major crash investigation unit.

Justin Kupfer: So our goal is to go out and educate first. And we do that in multiple ways.

We do that with the technology we’re using. You’ll see road signs now, our speed signs that actually flash their speed warning them to slow down.

We’ll put it up on billboards, we have a Vision Zero all over the city blasting it, hoping that it gets out to people to, ‘Hey, slow down,’ then last resort is we have to use our enforcement officers to go out there and slow them down.

Jamie Boll: So how data-driven is all of this? If you are noticing a trend somewhere, that’s when your guys step in it.

Justin Kupfer: And so with our data trend, Angela or our team at Vision Zero, they look at our crash data anywhere from fender benders all the way up to our fatalities, and then they report to us, ‘Hey, we’re seeing a problem on Johnston Road or we’re seeing a problem on South Boulevard or 77 northbound, we’re seeing an issue.’ And then we deploy our traffic teams to focus on that area to hopefully stop a fatality from happening before it even gets to that.

Jamie Boll: When you heard the goal was zero fatalities. What was your honest reaction?

Justin Kupfer: Well, so it was optimistic. Yeah, because it can’t happen. We just said over 90% of the crashes are contributing to somebody making the wrong decision, so it’s doable. If it’s not getting in the knot turning on the ignition, when you’ve had too much to drink, or waiting to walk that extra block to get to that crosswalk, that’s all lit up. I mean, there are certain things that can do.

Jamie Boll: Is a little bit of a whack a mole, though, because like I said, you got to just got to keep moving around the city. And it’s kind of just tamping these out, as you see.

Justin Kupfer: One year, we may have fatalities on the west side of Charlotte that have to increase the next year, maybe the east side of Charlotte, year after that, maybe the South Division, We kind of get everyone educated like we want to and then it starts somewhere else and then we go moving around.

Jamie Boll: You need help with this? I mean, obviously, the public has to be willing participants to make this happen?

Angela Berry: Yeah, that is a key component. Without all of us cooperating and collaborating on Vision Zero, we can’t get to zero.

We all have to be a part of the solution. And by all, I mean, my neighbors, your neighbors, the guy walking down the street at us right now, all of us, They do rely on you at home to let them know if you see something unsafe.

You can let the city know by dialing 3-1-1.

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