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Greenville can set a meaningful safety precedent

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This photo of a pedestrian hybrid beacon (PHB) was one of the pedestrian safety signals explored in 2015 by the City of Greenville and N.C. Department of Transportation for safety improvements on east 10th Street. Contributed photos.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A city has no higher responsibility to its residents than providing for their safety, including traffic safety. Greenville can make a solid statement to that effect and become the first city in North Carolina to commit to eliminating pedestrian fatalities within the next decade.

To its credit, the City Council council on Thursday unanimously approved a Public Transportation and Parking Commission motion to consider a resolution from the city’s Public Transportation and Parking Commission to adopt a “Vision Zero” commitment to reduce the annual rate of pedestrian fatalities to zero by 2026. It’s an important step for the council to take. Lives depend on it.

Commission vice chairman Brian Farkas pointed out the obvious when he told the council members, “It doesn’t take an expert to realize there is a major problem in our city and something must be done.”

In the first six months of 2016, five pedestrians have been struck and killed by vehicles in Pitt County, and 14 fatalities have occurred in the last 17 months. As the city continues its rapid growth, vehicle traffic — and the danger of more pedestrian and bicycle fatalities — will increase proportionally.

On Sunday, East Carolina University chancellor Cecil Staton told Daily Reflector readers that the university’s student population is back in town and has increased by about 1,000 this year.  Some much-needed improvements were added this year at high pedestrian traffic points in the university area, but only after two students were killed while crossing East 10th Street. And vehicle traffic is going to continue to increase as the population grows.

Vision Zero’s basic principle’s are simple and require no debate: Traffic deaths and injuries are preventable; therefore, none are acceptable. Transportation systems should be designed so that inevitable human errors are not fatal.

As clear as it appears, government officials seem to do nothing so well as complicate simple matters and create unnecessary obstacles to important improvements. That must not be allowed to happen where public safety is concerned.

Right now, new pavement is being laid to speed transportation in the city. Planning and design will continue for the foreseeable future. All plans and designs should include physical measures for safe pedestrian and bicycle movement throughout the growing city and other highly trafficked portions of Pitt County.

At-large Councilman Calvin Mercer, who requested the council discussion on Vision Zero, correctly summarized the situation.    

“Until we get a better handle on safety, we need to do all that we can,” Mercer said. 

Being the first city in North Carolina with a solid commitment to eliminate pedestrian fatalities within a decade would send a valuable message to companies and business owners considering growth or a move to Greenville. Most important, it will save lives.

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