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DavidsonNews.net: Davidson Plans Crossing Signs, Eyes More Safety Measures, After Professor's Death

Crossing signs

New signs like this one on North Main Street are planned for Concord Road crosswalks. (David Boraks/DavidsonNews.net) The Town of Davidson plans to install brightly colored pedestrian signs in the middle of crosswalks on Concord Road in the coming weeks and has begun studying other measures to improve safety at all pedestrian crossings in town, public works chief Doug Wright told the Town Board Tuesday. The effort comes after the Nov. 11 death, of Davidson College professor Robert Whitton, who was critically injured when he was hit by a car on Concord Road the night of Nov. 3. Professor Whitton was crossing Concord Road near Faculty Drive, a side street that leads to Richardson Stadium. A Concord driver in a Jeep SUV failed to stop and struck him. The driver later was issued a citation for failing to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Now that Prof. Whitton has died of his injuries, police are reviewing the case and planning to meet with prosecutors this week to determine if additional charges are warranted, Police Chief Jeanne Miller said Tuesday. Davidson Commissioners observed a moment of silence during their meeting Tuesday night to honor Professor Whitton, a longtime math professor and friend and neighbor to many in town. The tribute was a prelude to a 45-minute presentation and discussion that Mr. Wright led, discussing the hazards and potential safety improvements at crosswalks. Concord Road and NC 115 in Davidson are maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation, so any changes, improvements and signage must get approval from Raleigh. Mr. Wright said Wednesday that he has already obtained NC DOT approval for the in-street signs, which will be anchored in the center of the road at five major crosswalks on Concord Road. Mr. Wright said the signs likely will go at: Chambers Drive (across from the Preyer building near Davidson College Presbyterian Church Congregation House) Faculty Drive (where Professor Whitton was struck) Baker Drive (likely only one of the two crosswalks) Thompson Street St. Alban's Lane The yellow or fluorescent green signs include a black pedestrian icon and a red stop sign. They are designed to improve compliance with state law, which says cars must come a stop when pedestrians are in a crosswalk. "I see this as something we can do immediately that we'll get some results from," Mr. Wright told DavidsonNews.net The signs, known as R1-6As, "are a good bang for the buck, and we will see some improvements compliance there immediately," Mr. Wright said. "That also will give us some time to take the best approach to the rest of the roadway as well as all of our other crossings in town." It could take about three weeks to install the signs, which cost about $200 each - or $1,000 for all five planned. A major problem with the upright signs in the road is that they are frequently damaged or destroyed when drivers fail to go around them. Replacing the signs will be an ongoing expense for the town, he said. NEXT STEPS Mr. Wright said after he gets the crossing signs installed, he will work on improving lighting along Concord Road. He'll also study other equipment, and on Tuesday showed the board solutions ranging from push-button crossing lights to in-street lighting to brightly colored flags that pedestrians can wave as they step into a crosswalk. During Tuesday's meeting, the public works chief said lighting along Concord Road falls short of some standards, and probably could be improved. But on Wednesdays, he noted that there could be a tradeoff to make - brighter lighting also could raise concerns about light pollution and bring complaints from neighbors. He said the standards of brightness he cited Tuesday likely would make many people uncomfortable. "The town has basically the same type of lighting levels as everybody else in the state, and around here," he said. "Our lighting levels are not particularly insufficient, but I think we have room to improve." He said he hopes to come back to the Town Board by the end of the year with proposals for lighting. After that, it could take six months to win approval from the N.C. DOT. After lighting, Mr. Wright will consider options for pedestrian lights. Some types - such as solar-powered hanging lights over the road - are used elsewhere in the area. But they're expensive - up to $6,000 per intersection. 'AN EDUCATIONAL ISSUE' Town board members listened to Mr. Wright's presentation and said they'll consider the ideas he comes up with. But some also noted that the problem at crosswalks also has to do with driver and pedestrian awareness of the law. "This is an educational issue," Mayor Woods said. He said he has received complaints from residents that using a crosswalk can be risky. "It's a little bit of a guessing game, what's going to happen. Some cars stop and some do not." He asked Chief Miller if the town could step up ticketing or warnings, "just to create some knowledge and education for drivers." Chief Miller said the law requires drivers to stop if a pedestrian is already in the crosswalk. "At the curb is not enough. The law says a vehicle must yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk," she said. The law doesn't require pedestrians to act defensively, but she thinks "just as people drive defensively and cycle defensively, we must walk and cross defensively." The police chief said the town could look into renting electronic message boards to "saturate" roads with the message that drivers must stop. She noted that the town's enforcement of speed limits on Griffith Street has lower speeds there and that a campaign about crosswalks also could improve compliance. Another interesting factoid to emerge from Tuesday's discussion was this: Town Manager Leamon Brice said Davidson's town ordinance requires anyone walking at night to wear clothing with some amount of reflective material. Commission Connie Wessner also said Davidson residents can play a role in improving safety, through a townwide effort. "A year ago, we had citizens rally around the library cause. This feels like something that doesn't just need to take place at this table. I feel there could be some energy put by citizens around this," she said.