Bike Walk RVA

Advocating for comfortable and connected places to bike and walk for people of all ages and abilities in greater Richmond. Biking and walking for everyday transportation should be accessible to everyone.

We Must Double our Prioritization of Pedestrian Safety

Bike Walk RVA – May 9, 2023

We asked ChatGPT what Richmond should do to save pedestrians’ lives. Here’s what it said.

It’s time for Richmond to take action and save the lives of pedestrians on our streets. We can no longer stand by and watch as reckless drivers continue to put innocent lives in danger. We need urgent and comprehensive measures to ensure that our streets are safe for everyone, including those on foot.

Firstly, we need to prioritize pedestrian safety in our infrastructure planning. This means investing in safe and accessible sidewalks, well-marked crosswalks, and protected bike lanes. We need to design our streets with pedestrian safety in mind, not just as an afterthought. No more excuses about budget constraints or lack of political will – pedestrian safety must be a top priority.

Attention to Richmond’s dangerous environment for pedestrians has grown tremendously in the past week as two people walking were killed within a few days, following another high-profile pedestrian fatality in January. Two of these happened a few blocks from each other on Main St. on VCU’s downtown campus.

The unfortunate reality is that it has been getting worse as a pedestrian for several years in Richmond. Ask yourself if you have seen reckless, downright crazy driving increase or not.  Do you ever find yourself urgently unsure if an approaching driver barreling down the street is going to yield for you when you’re in a crosswalk? Might this even be the norm? Do you think Richmond’s streets have been built with your safety in mind, or are they built to encourage unsafe driving throughout the city?

Do you think the status quo demonstrates thoughtful leadership that prioritizes your safety?

There are some shocking statistics to share. 2022 saw some major increases in pedestrian fatalities over 2021. The Richmond region (specifically the PlanRVA planning district) saw a 31.6% increase in pedestrian fatalities. The state saw a 36.8% increase. The City of Richmond saw a 150% increase. We are not making this up – these drastic and unprecedented increases are real, straight from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles! Tracking this nationally, we have not seen anything like this anywhere else. Moreover, Richmond saw a 115% increase in overall traffic fatalities.

Here’s the worst part: year-to-date, Richmond’s pedestrian fatalities are up 60% AGAIN over last year.

In 2020, 16-year old Aajah Rosemond was killed while standing on a sidewalk. Two cars crashed into each other at the intersection of Jahnke and German School Roads, and their vehicle speeds caused them to leave the roadway and strike her. What kind of world do we live in where the sidewalk isn’t safe for us to simply exist on?

The same essential tragic scenario happened just last week: two cars crashed into each other on Main St. on VCU’s Monroe Park campus. One of the crashing cars veered off the road into Shawn Soares and killed him on the sidewalk.

What is going to reverse this maddening trend? Reducing speeds is the most reliable way to reduce crashes and to make crashes that do happen more survivable.

Convert more spaces at VCU to pedestrian-only. It is a large university that will perennially have a high number of young people, visitors from all kinds of places, and high pedestrian volumes. It is absurd to have such high-speed highways going through campus where our best and brightest are starting their adult lives and careers.

Slow our urban highways, meaningfully, with design changes. Roundabouts at intersections. Narrower lanes. Fewer lanes. Narrower roadways. Dedicated spaces for people to bike and walk. Traffic calming like bulb outs, protected bike lanes. Bike racks, bike share stations, and bollards at the end of parking lanes to prevent on-street parking from blocking views. Lowering speed limits and building the road to that speed limit. “Green waves” of traffic lights that encourage slower driving in order to avoid red lights. Converting two-way streets to one-ways (a recommendation in city plans going back at least to 2007).

Suffice it to say, we are going to get more of the same unless more is done to fix this problem. Double the prioritization, double the focus, and double the funding. Every road project should put people walking and biking first – even ChatGPT knows it. When there is a construction project, close road lanes instead of trails and sidewalks. Commit more City funding to road safety projects, and dedicate line items in local budgets for traffic calming instead of big unspecified pots for paving. Dedicate funding to rapid response when a serious or fatal crash occurs. Our streets are designed and maintained by public servants who work for us, and these trends show they have been getting it wrong. Something should be done immediately when a fatal flaw in the transportation system they design and implement takes someone’s life. And it needs to start with the budget.

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