Davidson opens 2022 agenda with pedestrian safety, intersection cameras

To promote pedestrian safety and help prevent incidents, town staff members improvised a clear and direct traffic control message at the four-way downtown intersection of Main Street, Chairman Blake Lane and South Street. /Lee Sullivan

DAVIDSON – Steps toward promoting safety and providing enhanced technology for incident investigations were highlighted items at the Davidson town board’s first meeting of 2022.

Following a presentation from Assistant Town Manager Austin Nantz, commissioners approved a plan to establish a community Vision Zero Task Force to identify, evaluate and recommend pedestrian safety measures and policies. And in a separate item at the Jan. 11 session, board members provided unofficial endorsement – with a final decision scheduled at their next meeting – for Police Chief Penny Dunn’s request to install cameras for investigative purposes at three downtown locations.

Targeting ‘Zero’

Last summer, after a Main Street pedestrian fatality – the third in the downtown area in 10 years – the town board appointed a citizen pedestrian safety task force to find ways to promote pedestrian safety throughout the town. A few months later, that committee’s report to commissioners included immediate, long-term and “what if” recommendations, with participation the Vision Zero program cited as the best way to demonstrate the town’s commitment.

The board approved that step immediately, becoming one of 11 municipalities in the state – a list that includes Mooresville, Charlotte, Greensboro and Chapel Hill – adopting the “Vision Zero” goal to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

The decades-old international Vision Zero program, with a North Carolina initiative in place, shares data-driven prevention strategies to help guide  measures for participating communities.

One of the first program steps involves creating a local Vision Zero Task Force, and with Nantz’s urging – “We want momentum on this, we don’t want to stop,” she said – commissioners gave unanimous approval for a local Task Force with 9 to 13 members.

Approval authorized town staff to begin working out the details for selecting Task Force members.

In her presentation, Nantz said the town had already taken steps on some of the easier to address “low-hanging fruit” safety steps identified by the pedestrian safety committee – a locally improvised “No Movement On Red” sign at the four-way downtown intersection of Main Street, South Street and Chairman Blake Lane was mentioned as an example. And she added the new Task Force, incorporating ideas from the pedestrian safety committee and other town committees and studies, would be charged with identifying the pros, cons and practicality of other potential measures.

In her summary, Nantz said the goal would be to move on the Task Force process “as expeditiously as possible.” With the group’s assignment focused on “What’s next … what’s realistic … and what can we do in what time frame?”

With some in-town cameras already in service, the Davidson Police Department wants to add devices at downtown intersections as evidence-gathering tools for incident investigations.

Incident evidence

While the goal is prevention, when accidents do occur, determining exactly what happened is vital, and that’s why Dunn is seeking camera placements at downtown locations.

Dunn said she would like to install video devices at the Main/South/Chairman Black exchange and at the Main Street/Concord Road intersection. If those cameras could be positioned to also provide coverage of the new midblock Main Street crossing, Dunn said she’d like to put a third camera at the Main Street/Griffith Street intersection.

Dunn, with Commissioner Ryan Fay also emphasizing the point, said the cameras would be for investigative purposes, not surveillance.

“They would be recalled to view if an accident occurs,” Dunn said of the gathered images, describing the system – with cameras already in service in locations outside the downtown area – as “all reactive, not something that we’re monitoring.”

Dunn said information captured by cameras could provide clear evidence about incidents – something not always available from eyewitnesses.

She said trauma impacts how memory works, and that applies to those involved, as well as those who witness, traffic accidents.

“Eyewitness is the weakest testimony,” she said, adding cameras would enhance investigative efforts while also lessening the stress placed on witnesses.

Dunn said installing the cameras would cost $11,000, and operating costs would be about $10,000 a year. A budget amendment for those expenditures will be part of the board’s consideration of Dunn’s request at the Jan. 25 meeting.

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