Be aware of ‘the invisibles’ in Charlotte traffic

CharlotteFive archives

Driving off of the I-77 ramp onto Nations Ford Road, I slammed on my brakes to avoid a man and child crossing the ramp by foot.

What are they doing here?! They are getting around in their part of town. There are plenty of residences — single home and multi-family — all along Nations Ford Road. As can be observed when driving by at rush hour, a portion of these residents commute by foot or walk to a bus stop, and occasionally one can spot a cyclist.

Yet at the I-77 interstate ramp intersection with Nations Ford, there is a collision of traffic culture. There are the outsiders who come in from the highway and neglect to think that pedestrians are on the road. And there are the locals going about their business on foot who carefully maneuver around highway traffic going on and off I-77.

The infrastructure underscores the collision of traffic cultures: sidewalks come to a dead end where the highway ramps start; the highway overpass is made of four lanes for cars with barely a few inches for bodies who brave to squeeze between the car lane and the barrier. Walking there is extremely dangerous. But once you get beyond the I-77 ramp zone, sidewalks again neatly line and bus stops dot Nations Ford Road.

The pedestrians have no choice but to risk their lives crossing the highway ramps to and overpass over I-77 on Nations Ford Road. This is a problem not unique to Nations Ford Road. It is a problem all over the city as well as all over the country.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials issued a statement in response to US DOTs release of 2015 safety data, which indicated that fatalities are up sharply. Especially alarming is that there was nationally an increase of 7.2 percent fatalities of people biking or walking. 

To find out about the situation in Charlotte, Pamela Murray, Cycling Savvy instructor, directed me to the NCDOT crash map.

As the GIS analyst of CDOT, Angela Dorofeeva, explained, “The purpose of this map is to allow users to view the locations of crashes of cars involving bicyclists and pedestrians in North Carolina.”

Zooming in and out of the map, it seems that bike and pedestrian “crashes” are spread pretty evenly throughout the city. To my surprise, the NCDOT crash map indicated only two pedestrian intersection crashes on my Nations Ford/I-77 intersection pet peeve. There were more along Nations Ford itself and many more along all Charlotte arteries. Crashes along arteries are typical: according to the NACTO statement, arterial streets represent 10 percent of the roadways, but are 49 percent of the fatalities.

As if on cue with NACTO stating that cities must redesign their streets to save lives and states must align their policies accordingly, CDOT is already investing in street safety and pedestrian improvement — even on state roads.

CDOT Bike Program Manager Ben Miller said CDOT has a number of active sidewalk projects on Highway 51 – stretching from the future McAlpine Creek Greenway, all the way to Alexander Road.

“The Pedestrian Program currently has over 90 active projects throughout the city,” said CDOT Pedestrian Program Manager Scott Curry. “Those projects range from long sidewalk projects to very small sidewalk gaps and crosswalk improvements. They include 18.9 miles of new sidewalk, 64 new pedestrian crossings, and 54 improved pedestrian crossings.”

Bicycle advocates are spreading the word. Debra Franklin is a city bus driver and a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee for the city of Charlotte as it develops a city-wide bicycle plan. She started the group “Bicycling on Purpose,” where she works with “the Invisibles” — her passengers — negotiating their first and final mile to get to and from the bus.

Whereas I learned about these invisibles the hard way by nearly crashing into pedestrians crossing a highway ramp, she has been aware of them for years. Franklin quoted Jane Choi, Urban Planner in LA: “There exist invisible bicyclists, people who are purely dependent on bicycles, usually low-income and working in the service sector, who tend to ride the wrong way on roads without a helmet. They’re not thought of as part of the cycling community, but they’re there.”

The same goes for “invisible” pedestrians crossing, for example, highway ramps at Nations Ford — they are not thought of by motorists as traffic participants, but they are.

The roads and streets belong to all of us. Until all safe infrastructure measures and, as Murray said, all comprehensive traffic education is in place, we must re-learn to expect pedestrians and cyclists anywhere and sometimes in any direction. 

Photo: CDOT


  1. What if there was a way the driver could have started the braking ¾ of a second sooner and stopped 30 – 40 feet shorter. There is. Sad that the authorities refuse to teach student drivers the safer left foot braking method and ban driving instructors from teaching the very complicated, inefficient and dangerous (right foot pedal errors) right foot braking on automatic cars.


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