Dozens die every year on Charlotte’s roads. What’s being done?

CHARLOTTE — Every time Henry Wheeler passes by Monroe Road, he’s haunted by how little things have changed.

“I see people every day,” he said. “They just got off from Food Lion and it’s convenient for them to come to that side of the road.”

He pays close attention to two bus stops half a block from the intersection at Sardis Road, watching pedestrian after pedestrian cut across the four-lane street, dodging traffic along the way.

“It’s very dangerous because that’s what happened to my brother,” he said.

Daniel Wheeler was on his way to work at McDonald’s in 2017 when he was hit and killed crossing Monroe Road.

“He was a people person,” Wheeler said. “He was one of those people that if you walk in a room with him, you’d know him by the time you’d leave the room.”

In the years since his death, Wheeler has tried to honor his memory by educating pedestrians and drivers alike about traffic safety, discouraging distracted or impaired driving, and urging pedestrians to take the time to find a safe crossing.

The toll of Charlotte streets

According to the city, there were 67 traffic deaths in 2023 -- 23 were pedestrians, two were cyclists and 42 were drivers/passengers in vehicles. Charlotte adopted a Vision Zero strategy in 2018, with the lofty goal of reducing those fatalities to zero.

Since starting that goal, 2023 was the first year the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed increased.

It’s a trend across the country, with the Governors Highway Safety Association reporting pedestrian deaths are up 14 percent since 2019.

Geoff Sloop, Charlotte’s traffic safety manager, said the COVID-19 pandemic is a major factor. When traffic volumes went down at the height of the pandemic, speeding became more common and when more and more cars returned to their normal routines, the bad habits stuck around.

“Speed is the number one thing,” he said.

The city mapped out areas with the highest amount of traffic injuries and fatalities to demonstrate where these interventions are most needed.

High-injury traffic areas in Charlotte

The data shows a clear arc from West to East Charlotte, with the safest areas concentrated in South Charlotte neighborhoods. The block Wheeler mentioned along Monroe Road is also marked in red.

“Every time this happens it’s like it happened to my own family,” he said.

What makes a road safer?

While the city has not published Vision Zero Highlights listing its specific interventions since 2020, Sloop said the city has added new pedestrian signals, improved bike infrastructure, and narrowed roads along the high-injury network to slow down traffic. He points to streets like The Plaza from Parkwood to Central avenues as a success story.

“We reduced the number of lanes, we added buffered bike lanes for the bikes to make it more accessible for bicyclists, we lowered the speed limit,” he said.

Sloop said he’s also aware of concerns like Wheeler’s about bus stops along high-traffic roads, far from crossings.

“We’ve worked with CATS to realign those bus stops at those safer crossings across the city,” he said.

For Wheeler, though, it’s not happening quickly enough. That’s why, nearly six years after his brother’s death, he still holds traffic safety events every year, sharing his brother’s story, educating the public, and calling for change on Charlotte’s streets.

“It leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth but the best thing you can do is try to help somebody else,” he said. “Because you can save somebody if you make an effort.”

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Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.