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Traffic jitters at downtown pedestrian crossing

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By Mike Goodman
Publisher/Executive Editor

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Later this summer The Daily Advance will be moving to a different part of town, making way for what is expected to become a new city-county senior center. There's a lot we'll miss not being on the corner of Water and Church. One thing I won't miss is the elevation in my anxiety level that comes with the afternoon get-off-work traffic, usually from about 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Compared to many cities, Elizabeth City work traffic is light. What gets my blood pressure up is a growing sense that, without better controls on speed and driver attention, someone is going to be hurt or worse at the pedestrian crossing at the north corner of Fearing and Water streets.

It's not unusual from our location overlooking South Water Street, to hear vehicles, engines gunned, heading for the crossing. If you're quick enough to get a glimpse as they pass, it's obvious there's no intent to heed the marked pedestrian area -- which requires motorists to give walkers the right-of-way. A 20-mph zone begins hundreds of feet south of the crossing, but many vehicles heading north are well beyond that pace when they hit the marked area.

As it happens with afternoon traffic in just about every city and town, it's going to be heavier and moving quicker. People want to get home, or they're trying to make some other destination or deadline, or they're picking up loved ones who may be waiting on them.

Most drivers, me included, have a good reason (excuse) for pushing the speed limit now and then. So, it's not like anyone's off the hook. But, in this case, along Water Street, a potential tragedy is likely if we don't get a better grip on that heavily trafficked area.

It’s not unusual to witness a drag race from the Ehringhaus-Water Street intersection to Main and Water. Seems that some drivers feel the need to own the right northbound lane along that stretch. For riled-up, instinctively competitive drivers, finding themselves in the left northbound lane, that’s like flame to gasoline, insisting that they overtake and pass ahead of those offending motorists in the right lane.

The reasoning is obvious: These motorists, most who are local, know the left lane ends at Main Street. If the objective is to reach Elizabeth Street, that, of course, may actually require those in the left lane to slow down -- and God forbid -- possibly even have to stop and wait for other traffic before moving over into the right lane. Apparently, that is a shameful defeat for some street-wise motorists. So, the only alternative for them is to race ahead of vehicles in the right lane.

This traffic scenario plays out dozens of times Monday through Friday afternoon -- and probably at other times as well.

Once my attention was drawn to the rumble of four northbound motorcyclists as they swept around two vehicles from a point just past Groupers, all pulling from the left to the right lane of Water Street at speeds that could not have been less than 50 mph at the crossing. My immediate reaction was to hope no one was in the crossing. Fortunately, no one was — that day.

That's not a hit on motorcyclists. Dozens more cars and trucks pull similar speed-passing maneuvers. And it's actually not just a northbound speed problem, either. Southbound traffic on Water often fails to yield to pedestrians at the crosswalk. It's not because these motorists are bad drivers -- but they may be distracted by the visual noise in that area. Turning vehicles, bicycles, people, pets, events at Mariners' Wharf Park -- these create distractions for all motorists. And if they are not soundly reminded of the pedestrian crosswalk, they drive right through it without slowing.

It would be better to solve this dangerous situation without police having to give out a lot of citations. More visible speed and warning signage or caution lights could help. And recently, the city has been considering making Water Street one way, which may be the solution.

Whatever the solutions are, they should happen sooner rather than later. Elizabeth City's downtown is a much busier place for residents and visitors these days. That's a welcome change. But more pedestrians means more individuals crossing streets and a higher potential for accidents.

I'm hoping that does not happen ever, whether I'm here at 215 South Water Street or elsewhere.

Mike Goodman is the publisher and executive editor of The Daily Advance.

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