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Popular Pineville greenway among the most dangerous areas to bike, safety advocate says

Over 1,700 people were killed on North Carolina roads last year. Experts say speeding and distracted driving are contributing factors to the uptick in wrecks.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 2021 was reported to be the most dangerous and deadliest year on North Carolina roads in the past 20 years, according to a new report from the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program.

The report shows that 1,755 people were killed in crashes last year, up 5% from 2020. And the problem isn't limited to just North Carolina. Officials say dangerous driving habits like speeding are contributing to an uptick in crashes nationwide. 

"People have been speeding over the past couple of years at rates that we generally don't see," Mark Ezzell, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Program, said. "You couple that with the fact that we've had, you know, fewer law enforcement on the roads, mostly due to COVID. They've [law enforcement agencies] have been affected by COVID issues just like the rest of us."

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Ezzell said speeding plus folks being distracted, especially on their phones, make for a dangerous combination. He said it will take layers of protection to make the roads safer for everyone.

“Our roads need to be designed with safety as the bottom line, our cars need to be designed with safety as the bottom line," Ezzell said. "And our policies need to as well. So I think it's less about penalizing drivers than it is about creating incentives for drivers to drive safely and making it difficult for them to drive at unsafe speeds."

“It’s disturbing that during a time of COVID that we have an increase when people are driving less,” Terry Lansdell, director of BikeWalkNC, said. 

The report indicated a decrease in deadly crashes involving work zones, pedestrians and cyclists this past year. However, Lansdell said more work needs to be done to keep those numbers on the downward trend. 

Credit: James Brierton
The trailhead for the McMullen Creek Greenway near Pineville-Matthews Road (NC 51).

He pointed to one particular area, the McMullan Creek Greenway in Pineville. He said it's along the very busy Highway 51 and many people are there to check out the trails. He said if you aren't in a car, it's dangerous to walk or bike because there are no bike lanes and no midpoint crossing. 

“You’re going to have to find a way to walk a mile down the road one way or another to get to a crosswalk or you’re going to cross midblock and that’s five lanes of speeding cars," he said. 

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The GHSP is working with nonprofits, including BikeWalkNC, to help. 

“We need strong education, we need safer drivers, we need safer designed roads," Ezzell said. "We need strong policies prohibiting dangerous behavior on our roads and we need strong enforcement to make sure that people adhere to those strong policies."

BikeWalkNC has several programs and initiatives geared toward engineering, drivers and cyclists to promote safety on the road. Lansdell hopes to see those numbers turn around.

“We need to have more education about responsibilities and duties on the road as we share this road together,” said Lansdell.

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