RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Changes are coming to Richmond’s streets, but some advocates say it’s going to take more than what city leaders are planning to do to make the roads and sidewalks safer.
On Tuesday, the Department of Public Works announced crews will be installing speed tables on Main, West Franklin, West Cary and West Grace streets starting on Thursday, May 11.
The project was discussed during a city council meeting on Monday, May 9. During this meeting, Council talked about traffic and pedestrian safety in response to the death of 26-year-old Shawn Soares.
Soares, a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) student, was killed on May 4 while walking on the sidewalk along the 300 block of West Main Street.
Another VCU student, Mahrokh Kahn, 22, was hit and killed near West Main and Laurel Streets on January 27. Kahn and Soares’ deaths fueled more calls for changes to be made in the city and near VCU.
During the latest City Council meeting, one Council member floated a proposal to make Main and Cary Streets two-way roads. City council members also considered more traffic lights and more speed signs.
Brantley Tyndall, the director of Bike Walk RVA, said city leaders have to change the design of roads for safety improvements to be effective.
“Narrower lanes, fewer lanes, more traffic calming measures,” Tyndall said.
Tyndall added that speeding on one-way streets, like on West Main, is a concern.
“We’re on a high-speed corridor where people are going fast here, and they can continue to go fast across Belvidere into VCU campus,” Tyndall said. “Speed is the number one predictor of whether a crash will be fatal. It’s an impact energy thing and lowering that impact energy is how you save lives. It’s a fixable problem. We can lower the speed of cars. We just haven’t done it yet.”
Erik Bootsma, an architect and a member of the city’s Safe and Healthy Streets Commission, said city leaders have been dragging their feet when it comes to immediate changes.
“Traffic cones…they can use jersey barriers. Any number of these methods to slow things down,” Bootsma said. “These will slow the turning times of cars and narrow the streets.”
Bootsma added the city has the money to invest in infrastructure improvements, but long-term plans take up too much time.
“Unfortunately, the time it takes to do that…In between the time that is done and implemented, people are going to die,” he said. “I’ve become very frustrated sometimes with the pace of these changes.”
At this point in 2022, there were two pedestrian fatalities in Richmond. This year so far, there are four, according to Tyndall. This includes Soares and Kahn, as well as a man who was hit in Jackson Ward in March and man who was hit on the Richmond Highway at the end of April.
Tyndall added that more needs to be done to keep both drivers and pedestrians safe.
“At this trajectory, we’re going to lose several more people in 2023, and I think I speak for a lot of people in saying we haven’t seen any signs that things are going in the other direction,” Tyndall said. “We haven’t seen slower vehicles. We haven’t seen more polite driving. It only seems to be getting worse.”
This semester alone, VCU police handed out 811 citations, made 61 arrests, and conducted nearly 700 traffic stops.
VCU is also expecting a report from an independent expert due on July 1 that will outline possible traffic improvements.