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Engineering Professor Looks For Ways To Make Chapel Hill Safer For Pedestrians

Posted January 6, 2000

— A Swedish researcher and people inChapel Hillare trying to give the streets back to walkers and bikers.

Many people would consider Chapel Hill pedestrian and bicycle friendly. But for people who try to work their way across Franklin Street, it is not easy, and it can be scary.

Dr. Lars Ekman, a Swedish engineering professor, is known worldwide for studying pedestrian and bicycle safety. He says communities that cater to cars instead of pedal and foot power are losing out on quality of life. He admits changing the emphasis will not be easy.

"I shouldn't say simple because I know the difficulties to change this attitude, but on the other hand, we can do it," Ekman said.

Ekman says the only way to do it is to find ways to slow down cars. Speed bumps, traffic circles, two-lane streets and pedestrian awareness are methods Ekman would like to see in Chapel Hill.

"Crosswalks are not a safe way of crossing the street, said Ekman. "It often creates a false feeling of safety."

"If you make a mistake in a car maybe that will make you angry or scratch your car, but if you make a mistake as a pedestrian, that could be fatal," Ekman said.

In November, a doctoral fellow at UNC was struck and killed by a car at a crosswalk. UNC has put up signs andstudents ralliedto try to create awareness for pedestrian safety.

Following the rally, UNC police formed a committee withDOTand Chapel Hill traffic engineers. They are trying to make the streets safer for bikes, people and cars.

UNC's Highway Safety Research Centeris also conducting a study of pedestrian safety.


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