RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Ashton Smith says she spends a lot of time looking over her shoulder while crossing intersections in downtown Raleigh — and avoids the one on Hillsborough Street where she got hit by a car in 2015.
“I had the right of way. I was two-thirds the way across the street and saw headlights coming from behind me,” Smith recalled.
Smith had shoulder surgery, then months of physical therapy. The driver hit her at 30 mph. Any faster and she could have been killed, she said.
“Failure to yield to a pedestrian was the charge,” Smith said.
In the last report by Smart Growth America, the Raleigh Metro Area which includes Wake, Franklin and Johnston counties, was ranked the 16th most dangerous place to be a pedestrian.
That ranking has improved over the past two years and the Raleigh metro area now ranks 27th, but the number of pedestrian-related crashes in Raleigh has gone up. There were 280 pedestrian-involved crashes in 2016 — 44 more than in 2015.
Between 2005 and 2016, 165 pedestrians were struck and killed by cars in the Raleigh metro area.
Eric Lamb, the City of Raleigh’s transportation manager, said they are looking in to why there was a sharp increase in the past year.
He said part of Raleigh’s pedestrian plan is to change driver behavior towards walkers. The other is to give pedestrians safer options.
“In the last couple of years we put in crosswalks in more than 30 intersections across the city,” he said. “We are working to improve pedestrian safety that way.”
Hillsborough and Blount streets have some of the most frequent pedestrian crashes per mile.
Studies show fatal crashes are more likely to occur on busy roads like Capital Boulevard, where speed limits are higher.
“I feel nervous trying to cross Capital,” said Raleigh resident Eleanor Samuel. “It’s a very busy street.”
Samuel said the crosswalks aren’t much help. She said they don’t give enough time for older walkers to cross and the wait is too long.
That’s why Samuel doesn’t wait for the lights to change.
“I would try to make sure it’s clear because otherwise you would be standing here all day long,” she said.
This isn’t just a problem for Raleigh. North Carolina is ranked the 11th-worst state to walk by Smart Growth America.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is taking notice of the problem and is using federal dollars to improve walkability.
“We’ve actually funded about 100 of these plans and they essentially lay out a framework for how they can develop bicycling and pedestrian systems,” said John Vine-Hodge, transportation planner for the NCDOT.
Although North Carolina is labeled “Dangerous by Design” for pedestrians by Smart Growth for America — there were 2,989 pedestrian-involved crashes in North Carolina in 2014 and 176 of those were fatal — both the City and NCDOT would like to see more people walking to reduce traffic. To get there, it comes down to teaching drivers and pedestrians to respect each other, they said.
Vine-Hodge said the North Carolina Department of Transportation says considering the population growth the state has seen, pedestrian fatality rates have stabilized over the past few years.