Local GovernmentNews & Opinion

Tracking Vehicle-Related Deaths on Charlotte Streets in 2023

According to Queen City Nerve’s tracking of traffic deaths on Charlotte streets throughout 2023, the total number of people killed in vehicle-related incidents on Charlotte roads last year reached 70, an increase from 2022, which saw 61 such deaths on city streets

The city saw the same amount of vehicle-related pedestrian deaths in 2023 as the previous year, 20, with four of those coming within the last 10 days of the year between Dec. 22 and 31. 

There was also a spike in fatal incidents involving micro-mobility vehicles such as bicycles, scooters, skateboards and wheelchairs. While no such incidents occurred in Charlotte in 2022, there were five reported by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department last year. 

In the above map of vehicle-related deaths in Charlotte in 2023, red markers signify a person killed in their car, black markers signify pedestrian deaths, purple markers signify motorcycle deaths, and green markers signify deaths involving micro-mobility vehicles such as bicycles, scooters, skateboards and wheelchairs. 

According to Shannon Binns, executive director at Sustain Charlotte, the continued threat of death among drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and others is preventable, though it would take more bold action from the city and others to curb it. 

“This problem is decades in the making with streets designed for moving vehicles as fast as possible,” Binns told Queen City Nerve. “The city has redesigned many of our streets for greater safety though many more have not changed. To redesign them will require significant political will given that more funding is needed and the fact that many residents are opposed to changes that slow down drivers. Fatalities are avoidable and we will continue to advocate for the needed policy changes and funding.” 

Learn more: Dianna Ward and Shannon Binns Discuss Bicycling in Charlotte on Nooze Hounds

Queen City Nerve’s map only tracks incidents that occur on Charlotte streets that are under the jurisdiction of CMPD. That does not include highways such as I-77 and I-85, which are patrolled by the North Carolina Highway Patrol. 

Between 2012-’16, 238 people were killed on Charlotte’s streets, an average of about 48 people each year, which was an increase from the average of 39 traffic fatalities in the previous five years. Then in 2017, 71 crashes resulted in 74 deaths on Charlotte streets. It was the third consecutive yearly increase in traffic fatalities, and that’s without including the 27 pedestrians killed that year.

In 2018 the city developed its Vision Zero plan in response to the hike in deaths, setting a goal to reduce the number of fatal car crashes in our city to zero by 2030. Charlotte City Council adopted Vision Zero in 2019. While much of the first year of the program consisted of research and analysis, CDOT began implementing safety measures on city streets in 2020.

Projects in 2020 included the construction of protected bike lanes on The Plaza from Central to Parkwood Avenue, speed limit reductions to 25 mph in Uptown and 181 local streets where requested by residents, and the identification and prioritization of 93 segments of Charlotte roadways for lighting improvements along the city’s High Injury Network.

CDOT has not published a yearly “Vision Zero Highlights” report since 2020. The Fiscal Year 2024 adopted budget shows that the city carried out 32 pedestrian safety projects in FY 22, with a target to carry out 25 or more in fiscal years 2023 and 2024. 

The city’s 2024-2028 Capital Investment Plan includes three bond referendums that will ask voters to approve more Vision Zero spending on the ballots in 2024, 2026 and 2028 — $4 million each year. The city has slashed spending on Vision Zero from its general fund, however.

A comparison of the FY 2023 and 2024 budgets shows that, in FY 2023, the city spent $17.1 million on projects that enhance transportation safety and street lighting as part of Vision Zero, but did not include any such spending in its FY 2024 budget.  

Queen City Nerve submitted requests for data regarding new Vision Zero projects and questions to be answered by someone on the city’s Vision Zero team after an interview request was declined but had not received any answers or statements at the time of this writing.

The city saw 81 vehicle-related fatalities in 2020. Though we are unsure of the total number of people killed in vehicle-related incidents in Charlotte in 2021, we do know that 61 people had already been killed in vehicle-related incidents by early October that year. Queen City Nerve began tracking vehicle-related deaths in 2022. 

Binns cites four specific reasons why he does not believe the Vision Zero movement has made progress thus far in Charlotte: legacy infrastructure designed to prioritize cars over pedestrians and cyclists, a lack of political will to make the necessary changes to implement Vision Zero, outdated engineering guidelines used to design roads in Charlotte and other U.S. cities, and inadequate spending on new infrastructure that will help calm traffic and make things safer for drivers and pedestrians alike. 

“Many mid-block pedestrian signals have been installed, and more protected bike infrastructure has been built,” he acknowledged. “However, the size and scope of the issue we are currently facing requires a more significant investment to improve the situation.” 

The city saw a rash of pedestrian deaths during the final 10 days of 2023, including the hit-and-run killing of 18-year-old Mariela Gutierrez in east Charlotte just after midnight on Dec. 31. Gutierrez was the second person killed in a hit-and-run on the small stretch of North Sharon Amity between Central Avenue and Albemarle Road within a week after 36-year-old Sheridan Brown was killed by a driver on Christmas Day just feet away from where Gutierrez was killed. 

The above vehicle is expected to be related to the hit-and-run death of 18-year-old Mariela Gutierrez on Dec. 31. (Courtesy of CMPD)

On Jan. 2, 2024, CMPD asked for the public’s assistance in identifying the driver who struck Gutierrez, releasing photos of the white van detectives believe was involved. 

According to a release from the department on Tuesday, the cargo van is believed to have damage to the hood, bumper, and front grill and is missing its front-hood Chevrolet emblem. The van was last seen in the area of Highway 74 in Matthews. Any person who witnessed the crash or has information about the case is asked to call Detective Worthy at 704-432-2169, Ext. 4.

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