University City

UNCC crossing risky for pedestrians

The busiest pedestrian crossing between UNC Charlotte and the College Downs neighborhood is no longer marked with a painted crosswalk.

Earlier this semester, according to an eyewitness, a car struck a student crossing at that location. Although no serious injury occurred, the mishap highlights the danger of the situation.

Hundreds of students cross at the intersection, at N.C. 49 and Suther Road, every day.

On a crisp November morning early last week, crowds of backpack-toting college students, bundled against the chill, walked along Suther Road. The crossing is the main pedestrian route to campus for students, staff and faculty who live in the College Downs neighborhood bordering UNC Charlotte. In less than 15 minutes, more than 30 students crossed the street.

University City Boulevard is a busy, divided urban thoroughfare that now links directly to Interstate 85. Its state designation, N.C. 49, inspired the university's somewhat farfetched nickname and mascot, a gold-mining "49er."

On the university side of N.C. 49, a handsome architectural brick walkway leads into campus past Robinson Hall, the university's new performing arts center. The intersection has traffic lights and pedestrian signals, but no crosswalk marked on the pavement.

There hasn't been one for at least two months, according to students who cross there regularly. The crosswalk was never repainted, they report, after roadwork earlier this year.

The lack of basic painted lines creates a confusing and potentially dangerous situation.

Alyssa Howard, a junior at UNCC, saw a student get hit by a car at this crossing earlier this semester, while Howard was on her way to class with a group of friends.

"He was walking across, and a car started to go and ran into him," Howard said. "He flew up in the air, and all the stuff went flying out of his backpack.

"Fortunately, the car stopped and they came back to check. The guy got up and just kept going."

The Suther Road crossing is only one example of pedestrian safety issues along UNCC's namesake roadway. Few crosswalks traverse N.C. 49 where it borders the university, and most do not connect to pedestrian destinations, such as shopping or apartment complexes.

For instance, no crosswalk connects UNCC to University Walk Circle (a road for automobiles that serves a large student apartment complex). So many pedestrians have crossed at that location, however, that someone has put gravel on the short, worn footpath in the median between the northbound and southbound lanes of the highway.

Alicia Driver, a barista at Jackson's Java across from campus in the Town Center Plaza on N.C. 49 near W.T. Harris Boulevard, said improved pedestrian access would bring broad benefits.

"Better pedestrian and bike access would be great for both sides, the kids at the university and the businesses on this side of the road," Driver said. "It makes no sense that people have to drive two miles instead of walking a short distance. Crosswalks, sidewalks, bikeways should all be a higher priority."

The need for better pedestrian safety and access near UNCC, and in the Charlotte region in general, is by no means a new issue.

A recent report by the nonprofit Transportation for America titled "Dangerous by Design 2011: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths" ranks the Charlotte-Gastonia area among the 20 most dangerous metro areas in the U.S. for pedestrians, with 208 fatalities between 2000 and 2009.

The troubling mix of students and heavy traffic around UNCC makes the situation here even more critical, turning local policymakers' traditional benign neglect of pedestrian issues into something more reckless.

Fortunately, to improve the situation at Suther Road and N.C. 49, there's a ready solution that doesn't require studies, stakeholder groups or big budgets.

As this column has pointed out before in similar circumstances, the problem can be handled in an hour with a bucket of white paint to mark the crosswalk, applied without delay.