Making Halstead safer everyone's responsibility


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Last week City Council heard or suggested an array of options to make the highway corridor of Halstead Boulevard, where it runs past the campus of Elizabeth City State University, safer for pedestrians. Not one of them should be dismissed, and others should be added.

Council was discussing the Halstead area, specifically where it runs by the ECSU Viking Village housing complex. That's where a woman was killed last spring crossing the heavily traveled road.

Lighting in the area has already been improved and action taken by council during its meeting last week reduced the speed limit in the area from 50 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour.

Both actions were needed, but Councilmen Johnnie Walton and Gabriel Adkins were correct in pointing out that lighting and speed-reduction are not the only steps that can or should be taken to increase pedestrian safety.

Others agreed. Mayor Bettie Parker's response was to turn the corridor into "ticket alley" by having police more consistently enforce the speed limit along Halstead. Regular ticketing does have the effect, over time, of getting motorists' attention in areas where they know speed enforcement is maintained.

ECSU Student Government Association President Chorn Poyner, representing the ECSU student body, said students supported a skybridge over the highway. Despite the potential costs of such a strategy -- possibly as much as $1M, according to city staff and the state Department of Transportation — that option also may be justified; it depends on how effective other remedies are.

Finding what is effective is the challenge and the objective.

Last April, ECSU alum Victoria Bradsher-Daniel, 26, was struck and killed by a motorist while crossing Halstead Boulevard from Viking Village to the main ECSU campus. Video taken at the time by the traffic camera at the accident scene apparently shows a female in the crosswalk when the “no crossing” signal was activated and when traffic on Halstead had the green light.

So, should the public just assume that the best response is for pedestrians to be better at obeying traffic signals and watching out for traffic? No. Far from it.

Pedestrians, of course, should be more alert to the dangers on and around fast-moving traffic. ECSU is a large campus fronting Halstead and many other roads where city traffic is constant. Hence, ECSU must do a better job of insuring that its student body is more aware of the potential traffic dangers around campus.

Better signage and more of it may be needed. Regular orientational information and student-involved actions about campus safety have to be emphasized.

City residents and motorists must also be more aware that ECSU is, in fact, a school zone - and not just during the regular school day hours, but all the time -- including at night. That may take additional signage, caution lights or street markings along Halstead in front of the campus. Would residents want their public school campuses to be treated as regular traffic zones? Absolutely not. High numbers of students — of any age in any area — require accommodating traffic precautions.  

Finally, Halstead Boulevard is a major thoroughfare for motorists, carrying people to work, home, school and out for the night or day. And motorists already have plenty of distractions in their vehicle, from cell phones to radios to food to passengers, taking their attentions away from the road. Getting that attention back is crucial to keeping students and other pedestrians safe.

Lowering speed limits, adding lights, writing tickets can help. But it will require more action, attention and persistence -- from everyone.