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Police: Students in danger trying to cross Independence

Taz Walker timed his sprint perfectly Wednesday afternoon. He dashed the 30 or so feet from the shoulder of inbound Independence Boulevard to the concrete barrier ahead of oncoming traffic, walked across the grassy berm, then repeated the dash across the outbound lanes.

“If it was a danger to me, I wouldn’t do it,” Walker, 19, said after successfully crossing moving traffic on one of North Carolina’s busiest highways. “But I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police don’t recommend it to anyone, and they expressed concern Wednesday that the elimination of crosswalks on a portion of Independence Boulevard being converted to an expressway will lead to pedestrian deaths.

Among those crossing the road are students from East Mecklenburg High.

“Drivers aren’t expecting pedestrians to be in the road here,” said Lt. Brad Koch, standing a few hundred feet from a site where many people cross the road each day. “We’re concerned that something bad could happen here.”

The state Department of Transportation’s expressway project covers nearly 4 miles of Independence Boulevard between Sharon Amity and Wallace roads. It has eliminated two intersections – Farmingdale Drive and Conference Drive – and eventually will replace the Sharon Amity and Idlewild road intersections with interchanges.

The project has cut off people who live on the north side of Independence Boulevard from destinations on the other side, such as the regional library on Conference Drive and a number of stores.

Before construction began early this summer, people could use the crosswalk at Conference Drive. Now they must cross at Idlewild Road – a half-mile extra walking distance – or take their chances on darting across Independence Boulevard.

Walker is among residents of apartments off Idlewild Road who sometimes cross the highway.

“Sometimes a group of us will cross,” he said. “It’s like a bunch of ants, and I’m yelling, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ ”

Police are limited in what they can do. Koch said there is no law against crossing the road, because state law prohibits pedestrians from crossing a road between traffic signal-controlled intersections. Because those intersections are now more than a mile apart on Independence Boulevard, the law does not apply.

Schools get involved

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials are trying to help. East Mecklenburg High Principal Rick Parker has made several announcements to students, and he also made a Connect-Ed phone message to all parents.

One student, an 11th-grader who didn’t want his name used, said Wednesday that the enforcement has gone a little further.

“Somehow, they found out that I was crossing the road,” he said. “They called me down to the office and told me to stop doing it, or else. They also called my mother.”

But that hasn’t stopped all students. On Wednesday afternoon, two girls stopped to talk with news media gathered along the side of Independence where Conference Drive used to be. The girls walked away from reporters, getting out of close camera range, then dashed across the road.

‘What else can I do?’

LaShawna Singletary, an adult who lives in the apartments, said she crosses Independence Boulevard at the same spot.

“I know it’s dangerous, and I don’t do it at rush hour,” she said. “But what else can I do? I’m trying to get an education and get a job, and I need to study at the library.”

Koch said police are seeing similar activity closer to Sharon Amity Road.

“We’ve seen adults with baby carriages crossing the road,” he said. “We hope people will stop.”

State DOT officials say replacing the current barriers, which range from 3 to 4 feet in height, with taller walls would be too expensive. And they say they are worried that people trying to cross taller barriers would be more likely to fall into lanes of traffic.

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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