By Maggie Miles/Correspondent
Around 17 pedestrians and 26 bicyclists are injured on the Outer Banks every year. Five are killed.
Locals come to expect the tragic, recurring incidents: Man struck crossing the highway while walking home from bar; parents hit walking down bike path with their family, teenager killed prom night while crossing highway to stargaze at Jockey’s Ridge.
For people who live here, it becomes ingrained in our psyches: Never. Cross. The Bypass. The danger, though, is less apparent to out-of-towners.
Those who know the Bypass well – especially during the summer – share a sense of anxiety and fear when we see a family, a young woman or a couple, ladened with beach gear and attempting to cross an unmarked stretch of the highway during rush hour.
This island’s unique geography and the influx of summertime visitors creates distinctive challenges for pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles on our roadways.
Detective Captain John C. Towler Jr., of Kill Devil Hills Police Department, says that the amount of engineering and thought that goes into modern road construction is pretty impressive.
“Long gone are the days of, ‘Let’s just hack a path through here,’ ” he says. Traditionally, road safety has not been an issue as far as design is concerned. For some places, the Outer Banks included, topography limits road choices and long-existing roadways were designed before more modern engineering considerations – particularly those regarding pedestrian safety – were developed.
There have been multiple campaigns over the years. A group of concerned citizens started the Outer Banks Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Coalition in January 2013 after several collisions with pedestrians and cyclists occurred across the Outer Banks. They and Dare County have released many training and awareness-raising videos to the public as well as outlined guidelines to promote biking and pedestrian safety.
But why, then, with all the educational campaigns and guidelines reminding people to do what’s been ingrained into us – like, look both ways before crossing the street and cross only in crosswalks – are there so many deaths? Is it pedestrian negligence, driver negligence or the fact that there is simply no agreed-upon way to make the Outer Banks’ roads more pedestrian/cyclist friendly?
In addition to road design, another factor that contributes to people’s risky approaches to the roadways is necessity. For a lot of these people, such as foreign exchange workers, walking or biking along the highway is their only option to get to work.
Additionally, many tourists and workers come from cities and places that are more biker/pedestrian friendly. Their decision to walk down the road is made without knowing the increased level of danger here.
“There’s no short and pat answer,” Towler says. “Some of it is ignorance. Some of it is laziness. Some of it is an unfamiliarity with the law or believing they are doing right.”
So, what can we do?
The Outer Banks Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Coalition offers this suggestion as a start. And though these guidelines may seem like common sense, it’s always good to refresh your memory and remember what to do and not to do when walking or biking on the Outer Banks.
Tips for Pedestrians
Always use crosswalks when crossing the road. When crossing U.S. Highway 158 (referred to as the Bypass), never use the center lane of the highway as a stopping point. With the high volume of traffic, it is very difficult for motorists to see a pedestrian in this location until it is too late.
Pedestrians crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway. (General Statute 20-174.a)
Use designated walking paths when possible.
Wear bright colored clothing and flashers on your body when it is dark outside. The narrow lanes and shoulder on Virginia Dare Trail (often referred to as the Beach Road) are very dangerous for pedestrians at night. Sand along the shoulder may cause pedestrians to lose footing and step into the roadway. Please be extra cautious and always wear clothing and flashers to ensure visibility at dusk and at night.
Pedestrians should always walk against traffic.
Look both ways when crossing the road.