here was Sylva Police Chief Tammy Hooper last week, standing in a crosswalk, wearing a safety vest and carrying a traffic cone to the other side of the street, and vehicles just kept rolling by her.
Did we mention that she was also wearing a sidearm? She was.
And folks just kept rolling by.
Not that we’re suggesting that she’d ever do it, but it would have been understandable if she’d fired a couple of warning shots in the air.
Such is the state of play on the streets of our fair town.
That needs to change. Efforts are underway to speed that change.
Hooper’s efforts were part of a crackdown in late August that saw her and Assistant Chief Rick Bryson out in the town’s crosswalks, with a support force dealing with drivers ignoring the rules. It was sparked in part by an incident at the intersection of Main and Spring streets that saw 71-year-old Joanne Davis hit by a vehicle after she’d stepped into a crosswalk. Davis was obeying the traffic laws, crossing under a white, walk-now sign, and fortunately escaped serious injury.
Earlier in the summer a woman crossing Main Street was struck and injured by a motorist. In late 2017 a pedestrian was struck in the crosswalk near Innovation Brewing Co.
The most recent enforcement action yielded 20 enforcement violations over the course of a few hours. For the year well over 100 violations have been racked up in Sylva crosswalk safety campaigns.
In addition to the high-visibility safety campaign, other steps have been implements. Bright cones have been placed at crosswalks to improve their visibility. New signage urges motorists to exercise caution. Flashing pedestrian signs called HAWK signals have been in place for two years on both sides of Mill Street.
These steps have all helped and are all welcome. Unfortunately, there’s more work to be done.
It isn’t that Sylva is a town full of lawbreakers when it comes to pedestrians and crosswalks; it’s that motorists here don’t have much history when it comes to dealing with pedestrians and crosswalks.
However, you mix that with, say, pedestrians from out of town who do have a history of dealing with crosswalks and you come up with a dangerous mix: One group expecting traffic to stop according to the rules and another that really isn’t sure what the rules are.
Of course, there are many other factors in play. We can find some of those by looking at the bigger picture.
In this state over 3,000 pedestrians and 850 bicyclists are struck by vehicles every year, making North Carolina one of the most dangerous states in the country for walking and biking. About 160 pedestrians are killed annually in North Carolina. Across the nation, the number of pedestrian deaths rose more than 25 percent from 2006 to 2016. Around 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2017.
Those numbers have spiked while deaths from other types of traffic fatalities have declined.
We’ve got a good thing going here. Sylva is a popular, warm and welcoming town. As more people visit, the economy gets stronger and the community gets stronger.
And there will be more encounters on our crosswalks. Watch out for them.
And a final note: We’re awfully distracted these days.
It’s probably no coincidence that the number of pedestrian deaths has been on the rise, as more and more of us are driving with one hand on the wheel and the other plastering a cellphone to our ear. More of us are also walking around staring at screens when we should be paying attention.
In Sylva, town leaders and law enforcement are staking steps to make sure we don’t add to the grim pedestrian numbers.
But it’s not a job for law enforcement alone.
Pedestrians need to learn the rules, and drivers need to learn the rules.
And we all probably need to hang up a lot more often than we do.