RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Each year, there is an average of 2,700 injuries and 13 deaths involving pedestrians on the City of Richmond’s roadways, according to the mayor’s office. That’s why the City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is acting on its $5.8 million investment in pedestrian safety.
On Thursday, Mayor Levar Stoney helped install one of 55 Stop for Pedestrian signs, meant to remind drivers to slow down as they approach crosswalks, even if they don’t immediately see someone in it. It’s part of the City’s VisionZero initiative, aimed at making the streets safer for everyone.
“No fatalities or series injuries on our City streets are acceptable,” City of Richmond Pedestrian, Bicycle & Trails Coordinator Jakob Helmboldt said. “These projects work in tandem with recent changes to the Code of Virginia that enhance protections for pedestrians.”
Regardless of whether signage exists at a given intersection, Virginia drivers are required to stop for pedestrians. As of July 1, 2020, this applies to any crosswalk — marked or unmarked. Drivers must come to a complete stop, not just yield, for all pedestrians in a crosswalk, or they could face a fine.
“If there’re bus stops nearby, we know there’s more pedestrians,” Kimley-Horn Civil Engineer John Oliver said. “We try to spread them out every couple of intersections, as well, just to kind of remind people. While it’s the law at every single intersection, whether one of these signs is here or not, we want to make sure they were in effective locations, just to try to help change the driving culture.”
Oliver is one of the many people who helped make the Stop for Pedestrian signs a reality. But the work is far from over.
“Changing the infrastructure is not enough alone, and with that, we have to change our safety culture, which is highlighted by the very conspicuous signage that’s being installed, and it also is supported by our collaborative efforts,” Helmboldt said.
One of those joint efforts is with Sports Backers. Louise Lockett Gordon is the director of the organization’s Bike Walk RVA, a regional program to support bike and pedestrian-friendly policies, programs and infrastructure projects.
She noted that, over the course of 2020, there was a 39% increased in pedestrian fatalities in the greater Richmond area.
“These aren’t just number,” Lockett Gordon said. “These are people, these are family members, these are neighbors, people who should be with us, and, unfortunately, they aren’t today.”
Since 2017, Helmboldt said that the City has striped high-visibility crosswalks at more than 450 intersections.
“We’ve done revised signal timing at over 400 signalized intersections, which basically allow people of all ages and abilities the time to safely cross the street, while also better managing the speed on those corridors,” he said. “Over the next year, you’re going to see additional enhancements coming.”
But as the City continues to invest in pedestrian safety, stakeholders agree that it comes down to changing the culture and reminding drivers of the importance of keeping the streets safe for those who are not in a vehicle.
“I’ve been out here the last week, observing these signs, making sure that they’re in good condition before we accept them into the City system, and I’ve seen lots of drivers stopping for me as I’m walking across the road to take a look at them,” Oliver said. “I think it reminds people o the law. It causes people to slow down. Even if there’s not a pedestrian there, I’ve seen a lot of people slow down.”
The sign installations on one-way streets complement new double white centerline lane striping patterns, painted with the intention of discouraging drivers from changing lanes at a crossing point for pedestrians.
According to a release, an additional $2.9 million in safety improvements is nearly ready for deployment.