2023 World Day of Remembrance remarks

Following are remarks Sustain Charlotte Urban Design Specialist Eric Zaverl gave during Charlotte's 2023 World Day of Remembrance ceremony.

Good morning.

I want to express my sincere condolences to all who have lost a loved one due to traffic violence on our streets.

As we gather to remember and honor our family members, friends, and neighbors who have lost their lives, we look for hope amidst the tragedies. At Sustain Charlotte, we mobilize residents to advocate for the policies, funding, and political will required to make our streets safer.

We're proud to say that we've been working closely with the City and have been a part of its Vision Zero Action Plan Task Force from the very beginning. It's been an honor to contribute to such an important initiative, and we're committed to doing our part to make our streets safer for everyone.

In our conversations with Charlotte residents who are supportive but skeptical about whether the goal of zero deaths and serious injuries is a feasible target, we tell them, "Every life matters, and zero is the only acceptable goal."

It's common to hear about "multiple priorities" for our streets. However, the word priority was never meant to have a plural form. By definition, "priority" is "a thing that is more important than any other."

So again, as we did this time last year, we call on our city leaders and all residents to make safety THE PRIORITY for Charlotte's streets. Not speed. Not convenience. Not the reduction of traffic congestion. 

Ending traffic fatalities requires a comprehensive approach that includes education, personal responsibility, fair and consistent enforcement of traffic laws, and, most importantly, streets designed for safety.

However, for most of our history, our streets have not been designed with safety as the priority. 

We still face the tragic legacy of more than a half-century of street design that prioritized the speed and convenience of drivers over the safety and lives of all people who use our streets. One way to enhance safety design is by clearly defining which transportation mode has priority on our streets. This clarity would help with today's difficult decisions when changing our streets.

Most of Charlotte's streets are still designed to move as many cars as possible in the least amount of time rather than safely. So, when crashes do occur, the results are too often fatal. The number of pedestrian deaths across the county is growing faster than traffic fatalities overall, jumping more than 80% since 2009.

Because most of Charlotte's road network was built during the "Golden Age of the Automobile", it's neither cheap nor politically easy to redesign streets for the safety of all who use them. 

But never underestimate the power of your voice! 

As a community of advocates for safe streets, we have the power to tell our local and state leaders and neighbors that these investments matter…because the lives of our loved ones matter. 

Their lives matter more than speeding to a destination or running a red light to save a few seconds or a minute at most. 

We have seen that when we stand together and ask for safer streets, change can happen.

In fact, we've seen progress in making our streets safer and more equitable, especially in the last few years. 

Charlotte DOT has made numerous investments, including infrastructure to reduce speeding, pedestrian crossing beacons, protected bike lanes, intersection improvements to reduce unsafe vehicle turning, safer sidewalks, new lighting, and more. 

Last week City Council approved increasing the fines to $100 for blocking transit, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure. We thank them for passing this common-sense approach to making the City safer. 

But so much remains to be done. We must continue to advocate, side by side, for the needed changes.  

I invite you today to join us at Sustain Charlotte and use your voice to become an advocate for safer streets so that one day, everyone can safely get to the places they need and want to go.

Thank you so much for being here today.

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