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Ask a Journalist: What are the new traffic controls popping up around Wilmington?

Kelly Kenoyer
NCDOT recently placed bollards at the intersection of 3rd and Market Streets, as well as Castle and 17th. The aim is to protect pedestrians from traffic collisions.

Some new bollards have gone up at a couple intersections in Wilmington. One listener decided to reach out and ask: Why? WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman interviewed Reporter Kelly Kenoyer after she found out the answers.

Ask a Journalist is your chance to get your questions answered by WHQR's news team — maybe even on the air. Send questions to staffnews@whqr.org

Ben Schachtman: So Kelly, I hear there are new bollards downtown.

Kelly Kenoyer: There are! They’re on Castle and 17th, and on Market and 3rd.

BS: Ok, I've gotta be honest. I had to Google bollards so, for people like me, What are bollards, anyway?

KK: They are posts that are placed in the ground to keep cars from going where they’re not supposed to be. Sometimes they’re really solid and an actual physical barrier, but these are more of a flexible, temporary measure. Also, it’s just a fun word to say. Bollard bollard bollard.

BS: Bollard bollard. Yes. That checks out…. But, ok, why have they appeared on these street corners?

KK: I called the city, and they directed me to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. It turns out, these bollards are part of a grant-funded pilot program to increase pedestrian safety. I talked to John Vine-Hodge, deputy director of NCDOT’s Integrated Mobility Division. He says Wilmington is one of 10 or 12 locations across the state that got the bollard treatments, and they’ll do a 90-day evaluation to see the impacts.

John Vine-Hodge: "The bollards essentially, are really dimensions you can think of and then kind of mimic the functionality of a permanent structure mimic that function of like sidewalks or outside of curbs. When pedestrians are crossing the street, it reduces that conflict points, it makes them more visible, and it shortens their crossing distance when they cross the road.”

BS: That’s interesting. So you said they’re doing a 90-day evaluation. What will that look like?

KK: So they picked these two intersections because they’re fairly dangerous for pedestrians- they’ve seen a number of pedestrian-involved crashes over the past five years. They have that existing data, and they’ll compare it to how cars behave over the next few months. Vine-Hodge says that might lead to something more permanent.

John Vine-Hodge: "If it's determined that those countermeasures are effective at what they're applied for, that kind of a lead to kind of a permanent installation in the future.”

BS: So what has this cost the taxpayer?

KK: Vine-Hodge says it costs about $5,000 to $10,000 per installation. If this pilot program is successful, they might do more of them- and as we’ve covered on the Newsroom in the past, that might be really beneficial for Wilmington. This city has a lot of dangerous roads for pedestrians, and a lot of fatalities over the years.

Vine-Hodge: "These countermeasures are, are, you know, nationally studied, they're pre-approved, industry accepted. They identify the locations where they work and where they don't, and you saw where they work.”

KK: They work by reducing the turning radius for cars, meaning they have to turn in a bigger curve. They also give pedestrians more space to stand, and they make the crossing distance across the road shorter. All of these are proven techniques to protect pedestrians from conflict with cars.

BS: And obviously, in a fight, the cars usually win – and pedestrians and cyclists pay the price.

KK: Exactly. Vine-Hodge says the state is putting a bigger emphasis on pedestrian safety across the board. We know cyclist and pedestrian fatalities are increasing across the country: larger trucks are one reason, as they tend to be more fatal if they hit a person. But car-focused city design also drives fatalities and crashes. When the roads are only built for cars, they’re less safe for pedestrians.

According to the non-profit Watch for Me NC, more than 3,000 pedestrians and 850 bicyclists are struck by cars each year in North Carolina, making it one of the worst states for safety in the U.S.. And 15% of traffic fatalities in the state belong to pedestrians and cyclists.

BS: Those statistics are pretty shocking. But hopefully these bollards can help reduce some of those statistics. Thanks for this reporting, Kelly.

KK: Thanks Ben! And if you have a question for the newsroom to answer, send us an email at staffnews@whqr.org.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.