By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
When it comes to crosswalk safety on the Boundary, the Tribe and Department of Transportation have made significant progress over years past. Fresh stripes have been painted on those crosswalks in many places and bright neon signs are increasingly being placed at the crosswalks. The Chief’s office even pushed forward a request by a program to install permanent lighting at the crosswalk on Tsali Boulevard between the Welcome Center and the Fairgrounds. The Tribe gets two thumbs up for at least providing the safety tools for those of us on foot.
Those who are traveling in vehicles are a whole other story. Vehicular traffic in the town of Cherokee take the speed limit as more of a suggestion than the law. Traveling the town streets during the daylight hours, especially during the morning and afternoon rush to and from work, can be a perilous adventure for pedestrians, because many drivers cruise areas like the downtown anywhere from 10 to 30 miles over the speed limit. I have seen it myself. Cars and trucks will blow through the downtown like they are on their way to a fire.
The speed limit in our downtown is 20 mph. The problem has become so intense that there has been talk of putting speed bumps on main streets. Add to the excessive speed the fact that many of us are driving one-handed with our phones in our ears, trying to turn our satellite radio to our favorite channel, or digging for something in our console or purse, and you have conditions for a major tragedy. I have seen people try to cross the street in our town only to run for cover when they realized that drivers weren’t paying attention to the road and especially the crosswalk. And, we have had our share of pedestrian deaths over the years because of drivers not paying attention and driving over the speed limit.
Law enforcement does what it can, but it can’t be in all places always. And, when the police are not monitoring traffic, speeders and reckless drivers make crosswalks a danger zone. Many drivers will totally disregard a person at a crosswalk. More drivers than not will simply drive right through a crosswalk, mostly travelling too fast to slow and/or stop in time for a person to get across the road.
The N.C. Department of Transportation via their website, ncdot.gov., states, “Under North Carolina law, pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections and driveways. However, pedestrians must act responsibly, using pedestrian signals where they are available. When crossing the road at any other point than a marked or unmarked crosswalk or when walking along or upon a highway, a pedestrian has the statutory duty to yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway. It is the duty of pedestrians to look before starting across a highway, and in the exercise of reasonable care for their own safety, to keep a timely lookout for approaching motor vehicle traffic. On roadways where there is no sidewalk, pedestrians should always walk facing traffic.”
So, we as pedestrians, also bear some responsibility regarding our safety. Another sight commonly seen downtown is folks ignoring or being oblivious to the clearly marked crosswalks. They play a dangerous game of “dodge car”, darting and weaving through quickly moving vehicular traffic. I have seen people be only five or 10 feet from a crosswalk and, instead of walking down to the crosswalk, giving them legal right-of-way, they will walk outside of it. Back in the day, we used to call it “jaywalking” and it used to be illegal. At least in our state, while there is some duty for the walker to use care when crossing the road, it is up to the drivers of the vehicles to ensure they do not hit a pedestrian.
Signage, speed bumps, and police can only do so much. The result of a 150-pound person impacting with a 2,000-pound vehicle moving 20 or 30 mph will be serious injury or death every time. As drivers, we must be more concerned about the lives of pedestrians than we are about shaving a minute or two from our commute or finding our favorite station on the radio. As pedestrians, we must be accountable for our own safety and use the tools provided to us, like crosswalks.
As the old highway patrol video used to tell us, “The life you save may be your own.”