Greenville is one of the N.C. counties to participate in "Watch for Me" campaign.

As the leafs descend from the trees and fall turns to winter in Greenville, local law enforcement are out to focus on pedestrian laws.

As part of the “Watch For Me” campaign, local law enforcement agencies are trying to spread awareness about pedestrian and bicycle safety through actively working with the community.

“It is really designed to help raise awareness of the responsibilities of all road users,” said Senior Research Associate with UNC Highway Safety Research Laura Sandt.

Originally the campaign was targeted directly toward pedestrians, but has expanded to include bicycle safety, too. The program began in 2012 in Wake, Durham and Orange counties and has since grown to 25 counties.

“In North Carolina there are some nuances to the law that not everybody is familiar with in terms of where pedestrians can legally cross and also where they have the right of way versus where they have to give the right of way to oncoming cars,” she said.

Sandt said there were some gray areas in the state law that described the difference between marked and unmarked crosswalks. In any circumstance, pedestrians should yield to vehicles because as Sandt said, “You can never take the right of way, you have to give it.”

Recently, researchers with the campaign have started looking at the crash data they have compiled. Using crash data from Wake, Durham and Orange counties, researchers measured how well yielding statistics have been in recent years.

“Within a three year span before the Watch For Me to the three year period after the Watch For Me program first really started, we have seen about a five percent reduction in the crash rate on average for those three counties,” Sandt said.

However, Sandt did caution that the early statistics may be because of pedestrian friendly infrastructure improvements or other similar factors. Researchers plans to continue to investigate and try to judge how effective the campaign is on motorist.

One major component to the safety of all motorists, pedestrians and bicycles is road conditions. Sandt said speed, the width of motorways or the volume of traffic can affect a drivers’ decision to yield to a crossing pedestrian.

In Greenville, the stretch of Charles Boulevard between 14th Street and Greenville Boulevard is a great example of how road conditions may affect driver yielding.

“They are being told that you must yield to pedestrians that are in a crosswalk. If the drivers are trying to abide by that rule 100 percent, there are those situations where we feel like that we are putting the pedestrian in danger by stopping because other traffic is not,” said Wood Davidson, director of ECU Transit at East Carolina University.

Davidson said operators have had an issue with vehicles not stopping and traveling around the bus when they do not realize a pedestrian is trying to cross. He personally has witnessed a time when one of the ECU Transit buses was stopped at a crosswalk, but motorists continued to pass making it dangerous for the pedestrian to cross.

“Within the last year that the city and university has really ramped up enforcement looking at pedestrian safety as a whole,” said Davidson.

This recent change in enforcement efforts by police made it difficult when training new bus operators. ECU Transit had to quickly adapt its training to reflect the new enforcement of pedestrian crossings.

Davidson described the dilemma his bus operators face as “a bad situation all the way around.”

“That is exactly what I have shared with the public works director, the city’s traffic engineer and the city’s police department is that very dilemma that our operators face,” he said.

The area on Cotanche Street near The Boundary apartment complex along with Charles Boulevard at the intersection of Ficklen Drive are two difficult spots for ECU Transit. In the last three years, only one driver has received a warning from law enforcement for failing to yield, according to Davidson. No pedestrian has been struck in the last two years.

“What we have told them now is that the law is that we have to yield so we are trying to yield as much as we can and hopefully other motorists will see us doing that and then they learn from what they see,” said Davidson.

Davidson said along with a recent push in enforcement of pedestrian safety, people crossing the street have begun to cross at dangerous times. “The basic rule of thumb was that pedestrian were going to yield to vehicles not the other way around,” he said. “Certainly, if there were pedestrians in the crosswalk we were always yielding, but three to five years ago you did not have pedestrians that were walking out in front of vehicles.”

Davidson credited the bus operators when asked why ECU Transit has been so successful at keeping pedestrians safe. The bus service has looked into new technology to help protect pedestrians, but has not found any services that would benefit the transit system, according to Davidson.

In the meantime, ECU Transit operators will continue to watch for pedestrians crossing and law enforcement will make sure all motorists are following the state laws.

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