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One week in, Davidson has issued no tickets in jaywalking campaign

A woman crosses Jetton Street in downtown Davidson on Sept. 5, 2023.
Nick de la Canal
A woman crosses Jetton Street in downtown Davidson on Sept. 5, 2023.

How can a small town make its streets safer for pedestrians? Davidson is trying out a few strategies, including new crosswalks, pedestrian signals, and starting this week, tickets for jaywalkers.

Anyone who's visited the town can see its downtown area is a great place for a pedestrian to take a stroll. Moms push strollers past little shops with outdoor benches. College kids walk from the nearby campus of Davidson College to get iced coffee on Main Street.

But it's also clear not everyone is crossing the street where town officials want them to, like one man who only gave his first name, John.

He left a juice shop and jogged across the middle of Jetton Street on the way to his car, ignoring two crosswalks several feet away from him in either direction.

"That was the most direct route and there was no one coming in either direction," he said.

No police were around at the time, but if there were, they might have given him a $30 ticket as part of the town's new pedestrian safety campaign.

"We want residents to actually use the crosswalk, because that's the safest way to cross," town manager Jamie Justice said.

He said the town has been trying to ramp up pedestrian safety after three pedestrians were killed by drivers in the downtown area in recent years. Two were in crosswalks.

It's a problem cities and towns are dealing with nationwide. An estimated 7,500 pedestrians were killed by drivers last year, the most since 1981.

A man and woman cross South Main Street in downtown Davidson on Sept. 5, 2023.
Nick de la Canal
A man and woman cross South Main Street in downtown Davidson on Sept. 5, 2023.

The town formed a citizen task force in response to the three Davidson deaths.

"And one of the things they recommended was that pedestrians using crosswalks is the safest way," Justice said.

Davidson has since installed additional crosswalks, flashing pedestrian signals and road safety banners. At some downtown intersections, traffic is now stopped in all directions for pedestrian crossings, and for the past month, police has passed out flyers and issued warnings to jaywalkers.

"It takes a couple extra seconds to walk to the crosswalk. This is not hard. Walk to the crosswalk. Motorists, stop. Look for pedestrians. Yield to folks in the crosswalk. That's what we're asking," Justice said.

He added that drivers can also get ticketed for blowing through signals and crosswalks, so it's not just pedestrians.

Meg Fencil, with the urban advocacy group Sustain Charlotte, said just because a busy street has crosswalks doesn't necessarily mean it's safe for pedestrians — if it's still built primarily for cars.

"Many of our streets are kind of like futons. A futon is trying to be both a bed and couch, and it's not really great at either," she said.

She thought it will be important to see if poorer or minority residents are ticketed more than others, but that Davidson is doing a good job by taking the issue seriously.

"It's encouraging to see Davidson is taking a comprehensive approach to traffic safety, and it sounds like they're trying to be really intentional and ensure that both drivers and pedestrians are behaving as safely as possible," Fencil said.

Still, getting people to use the crosswalk may prove more challenging for some pedestrians than others.

During a break in traffic, Jordan Tifft crossed the middle of Jetton Street on her way to a small boutique. She said if she got ticketed, she might change her behavior, but not in the way town officials hope.

"I don't know, I guess maybe I'd look around and see if there were cops," she said.

So far, enforcement has been light. As of Thursday, police said they had yet to issue any pedestrian citations.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal