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NCDOT won’t allow ‘scramble crosswalk’ at deadly Carolina Beach intersection, open…

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The intersection at Lake Park Boulevard and Cape Fear has been an item of discussion for the Town of Carolina Beach for some time now but NCDOT is reluctant to allow major changes to the intersection. (Port City Daily/File)

CAROLINA BEACH — Despite the recent death of a 1-year-old who was crossing the street with her grandmother at the intersection of Lake Park Boulevard and Cape Fear Boulevard, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is not giving the Town of Carolina Beach the green light to modify traffic signal patterns at the intersection — but it is willing to make some modifications to enhance safety.

It might come as a surprise to some but municipalities in North Carolina have little autonomy over roads within their boundaries if they are maintained by the state, which is why so many requests are required to go through NCDOT before any action can be taken.

Scramble crosswalks

A scramble crosswalk allows pedestrians to cross the intersection anyway they want including diagonally (Port City Daily/File)A scramble crosswalk allows pedestrians to cross the intersection anyway they want including diagonally (Port City Daily/File)

The town has apparently asked the NCDOT to consider an “all red” multi-directional crosswalk situation at the intersection. This would stop traffic at all four directions and allow pedestrians the opportunity to cross diagonally as well as through current crosswalks.

But this idea did not sit well with NCODT; the department cited extended delays for vehicles as well as the uncommon use of all-red crossings in the state.

“It is our understanding that we do not have this Barnes Dance/Pedestrian Scramble intersection anywhere on our State system. Also, the only confirmed all red pedestrian phase intersection on the State system that we are aware of is in Chapel Hill at the intersection of NC 86 Columbia Street with Cameron Avenue. My understanding is that this was put in at the request of the Town who requested it on behalf of UNC. This intersection is in an urban/campus setting with narrow lanes and slower speeds and has a one-way approach for one of the NC 86 legs,” according to the NCDOT’s official response to the town.

While the Cape Fear Boulevard and Lake Park Boulevard intersection is a busy one, the intersection that NCDOT is referring to in Chapel Hill sees upwards of 5,000 pedestrian crossings per day.

Also, by implementing an all red phase pedestrians would be subjected to longer wait times to cross and this could lead to non-compliance and more safety concerns.

“At this time, it is not expected that the Barnes Dance/Pedestrian Scramble intersection nor the all red phase intersection would be an appropriate treatment for Lake Park at Cape Fear considering the pedestrian safety concerns and the expected detrimental impact this phasing would have on the heavy vehicular traffic volume along Lake Park. Also, there are other treatments that we would prefer and are considering that are expected to be more beneficial for all users,” the DOT concluded.

Minor improvements will be permitted

Turning down the all-red proposal that does not mean that NCDOT won’t allow any changes to the intersection.

Deputy Division Traffic Engineer Stonewall Mathis offered some possible solutions for the crossing.

He said, “In regard to our direction in response to the recent pedestrian crash and resultant fatality at the same intersection, we are currently considering pursuing the following:

  1. Leading pedestrian intervals – this is a provision for when the pedestrian push button is activated, the pedestrian walk sign comes up some interval of time, typically 3 seconds or so, prior to the concurrent vehicular signal getting green.  This allows the pedestrians to go ahead and react and get established in the crosswalk prior to the vehicles getting green.  The idea is that by the pedestrians already being established in the crosswalk, the vehicle drivers will be more alert to the pedestrian presence.
  2. Flashing yellow arrow left turn signals for both directions for the left turns from Cape Fear Boulevard onto Lake Park Boulevard.  The current signal heads for Cape Fear Blvd display the green ball signal indication for the Cape Fear Blvd left turners (as well as the through and right turning movements).  The flashing yellow arrow left turn signal head would be a separate signal head for the designated left turn lanes from Cape Fear Blvd onto Lake Park Blvd.  The flashing yellow arrow should better alert the Cape Fear Blvd left turner to be cautious of others for whom they should be yielding the right of way including pedestrians and other vehicles as appropriate.
  3. Modifying existing crosswalk markings.  We have relatively new standard practices for crosswalk markings for which we are considering upgrading here.
  4. Relocating some of the pedestrian push buttons.  Some of the push buttons are located on the inside alignment of the crosswalk as referenced to the center of the intersection.  The proposal would be to relocate buttons to the outside alignment of the crosswalk as referenced to the center of the intersection.  This may help reduce sight obstruction concerns.  This would also be in keeping with having the buttons on the outside of the crosswalk if possible which is in keeping with preferential guidance.
  5. We also recently made an adjustment to the signal head height for the Lake Park Boulevard southbound signal heads to raise those above a utility line that was partially blocking some of the signal indications for southbound Lake Park.  While we think we have improvement in this regard, we are reviewing this still to see if additional efforts are needed with respect to this item.”

Mayor of Carolina Beach Joe Benson expressed his desires for the NCDOT to reconsider allowing the all red scramble crossing that has been utilized in other states and said the town has been working on improving safety at the intersection long before the tragic loss of life earlier this year.

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