Debate in Roxboro rages over the necessity of… a crosswalk sign?

By Katie Bowes

 “I’m gonna go ahead and tell you what I did today!” said Cheryl Cavalier when she pulled up to her friend Kim Brann’s house on a July 2021 afternoon in Roxboro, N.C.

 Kim burst out in laughter when Cheryl told her what happened on the way to her house. 

 Steve Cavalier, Cheryl’s husband, met his wife at Brann’s house, and after hearing the story, shook his head as if to say, “Lord have mercy!” 

 Cheryl took them both around to the back of her truck to show them a little scratch on the bumper — she had run over the crosswalk sign in front of the Person County Public Library (PCPL). 

 Standing at the intersection of East Barden and South Main Streets is a 4-foot-tall neon yellow metal sign with a picture of a stop sign, a pedestrian figure and a message reading: “State law: Stop for pedestrians within crosswalk.”

 It’s hard to miss, yet it’s still covered in scratches and tire marks, and can occasionally be found lying on the side of the road after a bad run-in with a vehicle. 

‘Flopping in the air’

 On the day of the incident, Cheryl had exited onto West Barden after leaving Rolling Hills Garden Center. She was driving her husband’s Chevrolet Silverado, as opposed to her typical minivan. In the bed of the truck was a magnolia tree she had just bought as a birthday gift for Kim, her colleague at Libby’s Tax Service in Roxboro. 

 As she made her way onto East Barden Street, home to the parking lots for the PCPL, everything seemed normal. Cheryl turned the radio down so she could focus on driving.

 As she came to the stop sign on East Barden, Cheryl waited for any potential foot traffic with the crosswalk sign in sight, before confidently turning left onto South Main Street. She wasn’t thinking of the width of the truck she’s not used to driving — or the blind spots she’s not used to checking.  

At once, Cheryl could hear several loud thwacks coming from underneath her truck. It was the crosswalk sign hitting against the undercarriage, running the entire length of the truck. 

“Then as I look back, I see the sign flopping in the air after I hit it,” she said, “ and I said, ‘Okay well at least I didn’t break it all the way down.’” 

The sign is used to this kind of treatment. Roxboro City Manager Brooks Lockhart said the sign has been completely replaced, base and metal sign included, four times in the three years since it’s been installed, costing taxpayers around $2,300 overall. Lockhart has personally witnessed the crosswalk sign get hit by FedEx drivers on their way to the post office — he knows how the sign suffers. 

Roxboro resident and PCPL librarian Amber Carver said she doesn’t completely understand the need for the sign on South Main Street. The security cameras for the library also give view to that part of the road, meaning Carver has watched people brush, bustle or batter the sign several times in the almost three years she has worked there. 

Carver said she and her coworkers are confused as to why the sign is there in the first place, as that particular spot on South Main Street does not see much pedestrian traffic. 

“Most people aren’t mad about it,” said Carver, “Most people are just like, ‘Why is this even here?’” 

‘An effort to meet safety concerns’

Understanding what should be a straightforward sign is knowledge afforded to very few. 

The Roxboro City Council has the responsibility of defining speed limits, and collaborates with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to look at proper signage and upkeep for roads within the city limits.

However, traffic concerns are brought to the city council by citizens frequently, whether at in-person meetings or online. 

Roxboro City Council member Tim Chandler responded to comments on Person County resident Tim Bowes’ Facebook post about the crosswalk sign, where another resident, Janice Hall, said the sign was “stupid” and “not needed.”

Chandler said the sign was, “implemented to try and control speeding issues where children are often playing,” and was, “unanimously approved by city council in an effort to meet safety concerns that were presented by citizens.” 

South Main Street’s speed limit is already set at 20 mph, so after numerous complaints about speeding from residents, the city council voted on a traffic calming measure adapted from the Federal Highway Administration. Their policies recommend other options to promote safety when lowering the speed limit has been exhausted.  

One of the FHA’s first recommendations is to narrow a roadway. When drivers see a large, open road, they naturally speed up. A restriction placed in the roadway — like a crosswalk sign — can be a natural way to encourage drivers to slow down. In this sense, the sign serves two purposes.

Lockhart and the city council both said they have seen the number of complaints significantly decrease since its installation, even if it requires constant replacement. In their minds, then, the sign is still necessary.

Edited by Morgan Chapman and PJ Morales