By Jamille Whitlow 

For the past five years, there has been an increase in the total bicyclist and pedestrian deaths in North Carolina, a trend that has caused organizations such as BikeWalkNC to provide free training to promote better transportation safety.

In 2015, the North Carolina Department of Transportation reported 3,053 pedestrian accidents. By 2019, the number of accidents increased by 175 people, totaling 3,228 crashes that year. North Carolina was ranked the 14th most dangerous state for pedestrians in a recent national report by Smart Growth America called “Dangerous By Design.” 

The report found that even as driving decreased during the pandemic, the number of pedestrians struck and killed by vehicles continued to increase. Data projections for 2021 estimate that it will set a record for the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the last four decades. 

For bicyclist accidents in North Carolina, 950 were reported in 2015 and 907 accidents in 2019. The counties with the most crashes involving bicyclists are Mecklenburg, Wake, New Hanover, Guilford, Durham and Cumberland.  

“One of the primary factors in bicyclists’ crashes is the motorist’s behavior and experience,” explained Trisha Farnham, BikeWalkNC’s program manager. 

Gavin Archie echoed what Farnham said. He’s a 16-year-old bicyclist and a summer counselor at CLT Bike Camp, a program focused on young riders bicycling throughout the city of Charlotte. The campers ride their bikes three times a week and up to 10 miles per day. Since the age of 10, he has participated in the program and developed his opinion on why issues occur between drivers and bikers. 

“It really comes down to the drivers, because drivers who are unpredictable or unwilling to share the road usually are what put bikers at risk, but in recent years the problem has become a lot better,” Archie said. 

Infrastructure and education

To drive down the rate of accidents and deaths, BikeWalkNC, a statewide educational organization, is hosting their NC Bicycle Friendly Driver Program. By engaging with motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers, they anticipate a decrease in transportation crashes. 

Farnham described the BikeWalkNC as being in its “launch year.” Training started at the end of 2021. Nearly 300 people have been trained statewide with the help of partnerships such as Charlotte’s Vision Zero and the NC Governor’s Highway Safety Program, which is part of the state Department of Transportation. The two programs help educate people in counties that are most affected by bicyclists crashes and have the same goal in ending bicyclists and pedestrian accidents. 

While Vision Zero is a multinational project, the NC Governor’s Highway Safety Program is based only in North Carolina and funds BikeWalkNC. 

BikeWalkNC is modeled after the national advocacy group, the League of American Bicyclists, a nationwide organization that promotes bicycle-friendly communities and businesses across the state under their membership. 

Vision Zero Charlotte has an action plan to end fatal and serious crashes by 2030 through educational support in the community. Their current community coordinator, Scierra Bratton, gave a glimpse of their strategy. 

“We’re working to educate the community, we work very closely with CMPD [Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department],” Bratton said. 

Working with the police department helps Vision Zero identify areas in Charlotte that need the most improvement with infrastructure and bicyclists/pedestrian safety. Axios Charlotte recently reported that there were 265 pedestrian deaths between 2016 and 2020 in the Charlotte metro area, with a disproportionate number occurring in Black communities.

Vision Zero’s most recent impact is the neighborhood traffic calming policy, a program that allows residents to make safety requests, such as speed bumps or additional signs, that can reduce traffic and crashes within their communities. 

Before, a resident had to create a petition and go door-to-door to approve a safety request. Now, the process to get a request approved must go through city officials and Charlotte’s Department of Transportation has to send postcards to neighbors and allow up to 45 days if anyone opposes the request.   

“We have been working really hard to build bike infrastructure with our last bond referendum,” Angela Berry, traffic safety program manager for Charlotte’s Department of Transportation said. “Our last bond referendum gave our capital improvement program $4 million dollars to build bicycle infrastructure. 

Biking & Walking Resources  

The Charlotte Greenway is expected to have 40 miles of bike infrastructure, these are the following streets that are accessible to bicyclists now: 

  • 5th/6th Streets 
  • MLK Jr. Boulevard/College Street/Hill Street (Belk Greenway Connector)
  • Martin Luther King Boulevard 
  • Davidson Street 
  • Davidson Street/MLK resurfacing highlight 
  • Mint Street/Pine Street 

For other parts of the state, you can find trail maps and information here.

North Carolina also has a number of rails-to-trails bike and walking paths throughout the state. You can find them here.

BikeWalkNC has a page of additional resources. 

One of Charlotte DOT’s signature projects is the Uptown Link. An ongoing project from the past four years that is connected between the greenway that runs north and south on the east side of the city and the greenway that runs north and south on the west side of the city.

Jaye Lewis, a 57-year-old counselor at CLT Bike Camp, prefers bicycling on the road instead of using a bike lane. If Charlotte could improve bike safety, she would like more protected lanes where there is a barrier of poles between bike and car lanes. 

“A lot of people don’t ride in the bike lane. I don’t personally because that’s also where all the trash is. When they clean the streets, they push everything into the bike lane,” Lewis said. “You get all kinds of trash. and it’s hard to navigate around that.” 

When Lewis rides on the Charlotte Greenway, she shares the lane with runners. Occasionally, runners will have their earbuds in and it is difficult for bicyclists to let them know they are passing because their music is too loud.

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Jamille is NC Health News' Emma Bowen Foundation summer 2022 intern. She hails from Charlotte and graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism....