In the past five years, the accident rate involving pedestrians and vehicles in Charlotte has remained stable, according to a city study released Friday.
But in a twist that has confounded the city, the fatality rate among those accidents has risen sharply.
In 2008, the pedestrian fatality crash rate was 0.41 for every 1 million miles vehicles traveled in the city. In 2012, that fatality rate had risen to 1.07 – nearly triple the rate from five years earlier.
“We have seen the steady rise in the (fatality) rate,” said Debbie Self of the Charlotte Department of Transportation. “We don’t have a really good answer as to why that’s the case. We are seeing that statewide and nationwide and haven’t been able to put our pulse on it.”
The study looks at the amount of miles vehicles have traveled annually, which has declined from 22.05 million miles in 2008 to 19.6 million miles in 2012.
The decline is likely due to the recession, and also to people choosing to live closer to where they work, city officials said. The city’s light-rail line, for instance, has encouraged hundreds of people to live in apartments near train stations.
With people driving less, it’s likely they are logging more miles on their feet, Self said. But CDOT doesn’t have a way to track how many miles Charlotteans walk in a year.
If the fatality rate were compared with how many more miles people are walking, the fatality rate might not be rising as sharply, she said.
“But we are very concerned about it,” Self said.
The city’s sidewalk program has been under scrutiny after the February 2012 fatalities of two children along West Tyvola Road. Kadrien Pendergrass, 5, and his 1-year-old brother, Jeremy Brewton, were killed by a delivery truck on West Tyvola Road at Shady Lane, an area that didn’t have sidewalks.
At the time of the accident, that sidewalk was second on a list of most-needed sidewalk projects that didn’t have money. The City Council then voted to find money for the project, but the city said it wouldn’t be finished until 2015.
After an Observer story questioned the pace of the project, City Manager Ron Carlee said staff would dedicate extra resources to the .37-mile project. He said it will be finished in 2014.
But the city still faces an enormous challenge to make the city safer for people walking.
Much of the city was developed for cars, not pedestrians. The city has 22 sidewalk projects under construction, which will cost $21 million.
After those projects are finished, the city’s sidewalk program will be out of money, according to the study. The city said there are 138 miles of thoroughfare streets and 1,534 miles of collector and local streets that lack sidewalks.
Charlotte City Council is considering a long-term $816 million capital spending program that would set aside $60 million for sidewalk and pedestrian safety projects through 2020. That program could require as much as a 7.25 percent property tax increase, which council members will discuss Wednesday.
More sidewalk projects could be further along, but the City Council and Mayor Anthony Foxx couldn’t agree on a capital plan a year ago. The 2012 budget season ended with no capital plan for sidewalks.
There are about 300 pedestrian-vehicle crashes a year, with 93 percent involving injuries.
In addition to building new sidewalks, the report highlights some other ways to help pedestrians. Among them:
• Make sure landscaping doesn’t obstruct sidewalks.
• Update ordinances to ensure new developments, or redevelopments of older areas, are built with sidewalks.
• Conduct more safety studies to examine vehicle speeds, street lighting and crosswalk markings. That could lead to efforts to slow down traffic and make crosswalk markings more visible.
• Have Charlotte Mecklenburg Police crack down more on speeding and have police ticket drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks.
The city study also looked at the fatality rate when compared to the city’s population.
In 2008, the city had 674,752 people. Charlotte grew to 772,627 people in 2012.
When the pedestrian fatality rate is compared to the growth in the population, the increase isn’t as dramatic. The fatality rate per 10,000 people was 0.13 in 2008. It doubled to 0.27 in 2012.
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