Dr. Traffic

What are the highest-wreck intersections in Charlotte?

Motorists and pedestrians make their way along North College Street at Eighth Street. Wednesday, August 19, 2014. This intersection is at the top of the city’s 2015 list for high accidents.
Motorists and pedestrians make their way along North College Street at Eighth Street. Wednesday, August 19, 2014. This intersection is at the top of the city’s 2015 list for high accidents. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Sometimes it’s not the busiest intersections where a driver needs to be most cautious.

That’s one of the lessons from the city’s 2015 list of high-accident locations. At the top of this year’s crash list is North College and East Eighth streets in uptown. It’s holding the top position for a second consecutive year.

There were seven wrecks at this location in 2014, with average daily traffic of 6,100 vehicles, according to the report.

You might not have seen that one coming because there’s really not much going on at this location. The area mostly offers on- and off-street parking. By contrast, the College Street intersection one block south has Spirit Square and the Levine Museum of the New South, both high-visibility attractions.

City officials don’t have clear reasons why this intersection is at the top of the list, said Angela Berry, a traffic safety specialist with Charlotte Department of Transportation. “This is an instance of a moderate number of crashes and a lower volume resulting in a higher crash rate,” Berry said. “There is no significant pattern.”

But this is one of the realities and nuances of driving in a city with more than 19,000 intersections – you need to be alert at all times. This year’s list includes 83 intersections with high wreck rates, which is less than 0.5 percent of the intersections in the city.

The calculations are based on the number of crashes compared with traffic volume, rather than fatalities or injuries. It’s purely a look at places where metal meets metal at a higher rate.

Six of the top 10 crash sites are in uptown, and a seventh is close: East Fourth Street and Kings Drive.

“I’m not surprised there is a higher concentration of crashes” uptown, Berry said.

In tight urban areas, more intersections create more opportunities for wrecks. In Charlotte, the city blocks are also shorter, Barry said.

Steve Phillips, traffic safety manager of AAA Carolinas, said uptown’s congestion, construction and narrower lanes create challenges for drivers.

“You don’t have a lot of room for mistakes in uptown,” he said. “You have a very short window to change lanes or move over.”

Phillips said the city should be proactive about making improvements to uptown roads.

“You have growth in areas that weren’t designed to have that kind of growth,” he said. “The roadways are usually the last thing people look at.”

Causes and cures

More than 70 percent of wrecks occurred in daylight hours in 2014. More than 82 percent during dry driving conditions.

Inattention is the most common factor that led to crashes. It contributed to more than 20 percent of the nearly 23,000 wrecks in 2014, according to the report. Inattention, including drivers who were distracted by devices such as phones or navigation aids, accounted for 23 percent of crashes, slightly below the national level of 25 percent, Berry said.

“It really isn’t about the traffic control devices,” Berry said. “It really is about driver behavior.”

Another contributing factor is drivers’ failure to slow down, which played a part in more than 15 percent of the wrecks reported, Berry said.

While the people behind the wheel cause most wrecks, traffic signals and signs can improve driving conditions, Berry said. The annual list of high wreck locations is one of the Charlotte’s tools for deciding how and where to intervene, possibly with more signs or signals or more significant changes.

The intersection at College and Eighth streets is getting attention. Signs have been added on College Street, warning drivers of the upcoming cross street. The city will continue to monitor that location.

Besides improving safety, the city might make changes to address congestion. Development, such as the Blue Line extension project, has an impact on priorities for road improvements and can create opportunities for combining projects.

Improvements often reduce crash rates, sometimes dramatically. The intersection at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Davidson Street once topped the wreck list. A traffic signal was added in 2010, radically improving wrecks there. The intersection wasn’t on the list this year.

The Cambridge Commons Drive and Harrisburg Road intersection topped the list last year and dropped to No. 10 this year after a roundabout was added.

But the best remedies to reduce wrecks are the drivers themselves.

“Just not paying attention to what’s going on around you,” Berry said, “is a problem on our roads.”

The Observer’s Ronnie Glassberg contributed to this report.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms

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