Police Put Pedestrian, Bike Safety in High Gear

'Watch for Me NC' campaign highlights pedestrian, bicyclist safety

Randy Best, administrative manager for Duke's Physics Department, rides his bike to work each day. He'll be among hundreds of other bike riders motorists should watch out for on Duke's campus. Photo by Bryan Roth.

For the second year, members of the Duke University Police Department will be extra vigilant watching motorists around campus this fall as part of the Watch for Me NC campaign, a program aimed at reducing the number of pedestrians hit and injured in crashes with vehicles.

Officers will spend extra time in October and November stationed at crosswalks across Duke where they'll watch for violations of pedestrian laws. Sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Watch for Me NC's goal is to reduce the number of motor vehicle and pedestrian crashes in the Triangle through education and enforcement of pedestrian safety laws.

During last year's efforts, Duke officers monitored traffic unannounced at key crosswalk points, noting that only 112 of 426 vehicles yielded to pedestrians. Yield percentages at crosswalks ranged from 15 percent to 49 percent.

"If we had a motorist that was disregarding pedestrians, we'd try to stop them and just talk about the importance of recognizing an opportunity to make campus safer," said Eric Hester, crime prevention officer with Duke Police. "We see this as a good chance to highlight how campus safety becomes a shared responsibility."

This year's program will watch for driver behavior around walking pedestrians, but Duke Police will also focus on how motorists interact with bicyclists. According to the Highway Safety Research Center, about 2,400 pedestrians and nearly 1,000 bicyclists are hit by vehicles in North Carolina each year. About 56 percent of all vehicle-bicyclist crashes occur at intersections.

That's where Randy Best was hit while riding his bike home from work in June 2008. Best, administrative manager for Duke's Physics Department, suffered internal injuries, seven broken ribs and more. He resumed bike commuting after recovering, but knows that riding still comes with potential danger.

"It's pretty scary when a driver clears you by a few inches, which is why drivers should always leave at least three feet to the side of the bicyclist when they're passing," Best said. "Even a compact car slipping by you can be threatening."

Best noted that bicyclists are also responsible for road safety, which means not wearing headphones, using a rearview mirror and always wearing a helmet.

Last year, the League of American Bicyclists named Duke a "Bicycle Friendly University." Duke has worked to add bike lanes on-and-around campus, widening road shoulders and painting "sharrows" on Duke roads to indicate that bicyclists also use the road.

"Duke recognizes the value of bike commuting as a simple, healthy way to access campus," said Alison Carpenter, manager of Duke's transportation demand management program. "A continued investment in biking infrastructure, programs and education will help to create an even more bike friendly-campus."