Last month’s death of a Charlotte woman in a head-on collision on Monroe Road highlights a significant public safety threat along many Charlotte thoroughfares where the density of development and traffic overwhelm outdated road design and traffic management.
Barbara Dennis’s death came during afternoon rush hour, on a lengthy stretch north of Sardis Road North where dozens of businesses line both sides of the road, with curb cuts abounding. Two lanes of traffic run in each direction, with a center lane used not just for left turns into businesses on both sides, but also by cars turning left out of those establishments and seeking a safe haven as they accelerate into Monroe’s primary lanes.
There are no signals along the entire stretch to break up the traffic flow and allow for safe turns during busy periods. The center lane is a free-for-all of cars coming from both directions whipping over to turn, creating the constant threat of a head-on collision. To top things off, the 45 mph speed limit is regularly exceeded, with many cars traveling in excess of 60 mph.
Confused, frightened pedestrians add to the havoc. With no traffic signals or crosswalks, but along a key CATS bus line where many riders live or hold jobs, jaywalking is an unavoidable fact of life.
And enforcement of our traffic laws appears to be non-existent. During almost two years of living in Charlotte, I have witnessed countless examples of speeding, tailgating and red light-running all over the city. Not once have I seen a driver at the roadside receiving a ticket.
The Monroe Road scenario surely sounds familiar to drivers in other parts of Charlotte. Many of our main thoroughfares are physically more appropriate to exurban communities, where businesses and homes are scattered and traffic is never more than moderate.
Monroe and many other roads citywide now traverse densely developed areas that are becoming more dense daily, and where a constant flow of cars is the norm. We no longer can afford to have them serve as only a way to move the largest number of cars at the highest possible speed.
Barbara Dennis’s death seems to be mobilizing our part of Charlotte to work for change. Neighbors talk of demanding traffic lights and other controls. They’re calling for crosswalks, sidewalks and bike lanes. And they want CMPD to enforce the speed limits and crack down on other aggressive driving.
No doubt, this will spark a backlash from some drivers. I’ve heard people who drive daily into Uptown from South Charlotte complain about the number of traffic lights along Providence Road. I’ve seen social media postings saying that if you’re in the left lane, even driving at or above the speed limit, move over if someone behind you tailgates to assert their “right” to go even faster.
But Charlotte’s principal roads belong to everyone – including those who need to get in and out of neighborhood streets and businesses, or walk to the other side, safely. It’s time to replace today’s Monroe Road and other thoroughfares with well-regulated, well-policed roads suitable to a large city.
Gilroy is a public affairs consultant who lives in southeast Charlotte.