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Pair of incidents spark concern regarding crosswalks

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Crossing the busy streets of downtown Black Mountain can be troublesome in the middle of the summer.

For Black Mountain resident Belinda Box, who typically uses her bicycle to get around, an incident on Aug. 3 was a jarring realization about the potential dangers of a certain stretch of roadway.

"I was crossing from the south side of State Street to the north with my bike," Box recalled, adding her recollection of being struck by a car that day was a little hazy. "I saw the car on my side of the road had stopped and there was a person who had already stepped onto the crosswalk from the other direction."

As usual, Box was wearing her helmet. She walked through the crosswalk with her bike immediately east of Cherry Street.

"The car had stopped and the driver basically took her foot off of the brake and the car lurched toward my bike," Box said. "She wasn't going fast, but I saw the car move toward my bike and was scared."

The car, which was heading east on West State Street (the section of U.S. 70 between Broadway Avenue and West College Street), made contact with Box's bike.

"She hit my bike and I was in turn hit by my bike," Box said. "I believe I was thrown back a bit and I think my head hit the pavement because I remember being thankful I had my helmet on."

Box described her injuries as minor - mainly cuts and bruises - but the incident was an indication that using the crosswalks in that section of West State Street can be dangerous. Box later learned that another pedestrian had been hit in the crosswalk days earlier, just west of where she had been struck.

Mere feet from where Box was hit is Kilwin's Chocolates, owned by Dave Teske since July 2015. Every day, he typically stands at the storefront window, making waffle cones or caramel corn.

"I have a good view of those crosswalks," Teske said. "Early in the morning there usually isn't an issue because there aren't a lot of cars on the street. But once the cars park along (West State), drivers are blind to pedestrians entering the crosswalk."

The crosswalk where Box was struck and the one just west of it don't have adequate signage warning drivers to proceed with caution, he believes.

"If you're a tourist coming in either direction in that part of the road, as you can imagine, there is a lot going on," he said. "You have the stores on either side of you, cars parked along the road, traffic traveling in both directions, so it's easy to not notice those crosswalks."

An abundance of tourists in summer and an inability of some large trucks to bypass the central business district exacerbates the issues, Teske said.

"There is an amazing amount of traffic going in and going out in this area," he said. "You don't typically have a ton of traffic moving fast through a downtown area, so it would be nice to see something done that would help draw attention to those crosswalks."

Shaun Pope, owner of Vertical Runner and an avid runner, considers the crosswalk in which Box was hit the most dangerous place to cross the street in Black Mountain."

"You have parked cars on this side of the road, so when someone goes to step out they have to get out into the road before they're seen," he said. "And on top of that, 18-wheelers come through here regularly and that makes it even worse."

Pope also believes the town lacks appropriate signage warning drivers of the crosswalks.

"If you look, there's only one state sign warning that there is a crosswalk here, and it's only facing one way," he said. "It's just facing west, and there is nothing facing east at all."

Town manager Matt Settlemyer said the town is aware of the potential dangers. The street is maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation, which resurfaced that section of the road within the past couple of years. "We asked if they could put in one of those breakaway plastic posts, the thin ones like the one in Montreat, to serve as a traffic calming measure." Settlemyer said.

"But that won't work because with the truck traffic and the people moving over to avoid doors being opened, we would just end up with a stick in the road most of the time," he said. "(The town) did cut a tree there to try to improve visibility there."

The recent incidents involving pedestrians will spark a discussion between the DOT and the town, Settlemyer said.

"Clearly these incidents make it important for us to address this before something tragic happens," he said. "We intend to talk to the state about this. We meet with them pretty regularly, and this is definitely on our list."

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