Fairfax County Supervisors accepted a challenge from Maryland’s Montgomery County executive Douglas Duncan, to join an area-wide campaign to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injures.
Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D), in a memorandum to the Board presented Monday at the supervisors' meeting, stated, "With the Board's consent, I am asking staff to prepare a letter for my signature accepting Mr. Duncan's request. At the same time, I am directing staff to prepare for the Board a summary of our efforts to reduce pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County including a progress report on where we are with respect to the Transportation Advisory Commission's (TAC) recommendations on pedestrian safety."
She further stated, "In addition, I am asking the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to review the bus stops in Fairfax County, both for the Connector Bus and Metrobus, to be sure that they are in the safest possible locations."
Mount Vernon District supervisor and Board vice chairman Gerald W. Hyland (D) noted that "this memorandum was in direct response to Doug Duncan's request for a regional approach to this problem. This matter is of particular concern to the Route 1 corridor."
On May 27, paramedic David Lyons, founder of Safe Crossings, an independent grass-roots coalition of concerned citizens organized to make the Richmond Highway safer for pedestrians, circulated an e-mail noting that "bus stops in Montgomery County will be moved closer to crosswalks to help lower the number of pedestrians hit by vehicles.
"The county will pay $250,000 to evaluate all of its 6,300 Ride On bus stops for safety and accessibility. Officials said about 20 percent of them should be moved because they are located in the middle of blocks, prompting people to jaywalk. Moving a stop will cost about $200," Lyons said.
LYONS FURTHER noted, "Last year, 14 pedestrians were killed in Montgomery County. Six have died this year." Thus far this year four pedestrians have been killed on Route 1. “Population growth has overwhelmed the Route 1 corridor," Lyons emphasized. "What we are seeing in Montgomery County is aggressive, dedicated action. They plan to spend nearly $1.6 million on pedestrian safety."
Lyons said, "Hyland and Kauffman [Lee District supervisor Dana Kauffman (D)] have been trying to do something for some time. But we can't continue to wait for VDOT action or approval. Even with the Virginia budget crunch, we can make the roads safer. We have a higher pedestrian death rate than Montgomery County."
Lyons stated further, "Fairfax County has a number of areas that are considered unsafe areas. But it's not just limited to us. It's a growing problem nationwide, in all urban expanding areas."
Lyons pointed out three actions being taken by Montgomery County to address the problem:
* Plain clothes police officers walk into the crosswalks to test motorists’ willingness to yield to pedestrians. If they do not yield, the officers show their badge and present a citation;
* They are moving the crosswalks closer to bus stops;
* They are announcing a new initiative every week.
IN DUNCAN'S LETTER to Hanley, dated May 16, he emphasized that their focus on the problem is based on what he termed "the three E's of pedestrian safety: education, enforcement, and engineering." It was based on recommendations from their Blue Ribbon Panel on Pedestrian Safety released in January, which included 54 recommendations.
Duncan explained in his letter to Hanley, "Our heightened commitment to the issue of pedestrian safety began when our chief of police, Charles A. Moose, pointed out that in any given year there are more pedestrian fatalities than homicides in Montgomery County."
He further noted, "Nearly 1,900 pedestrians were injured or killed throughout the Washington metropolitan region in the year 2000. In any given year, Washington, D.C., and Fairfax, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have a similar number of pedestrian fatalities and injuries. This is indeed a regionwide problem and warrants a regionwide improvement effort."
Duncan also referred to specific items included within the Three E's. Under engineering he cited Alexandria's countdown pedestrian signals, which tell the number of seconds allotted to crossing a specific intersection.
IN THE ENFORCEMENT category, Duncan explained Montgomery's "crosswalk stings." These are the plain clothes police testing motorists' willingness to yield.
Third, there is the education factor, which Duncan explained as a series of discussions with pedestrian and bicycle coordinators in the region to gain regional cooperation. As an example he stated, "Neighborhood Day will be taking place on June 9 and encourages citizens to hold up signs to motorists asking them to slow down and drive with care."
Along with his letter, Duncan enclosed two charts showing the pedestrian injuries and fatalities in Montgomery, Prince George's Arlington, and Fairfax counties as well as the cities of Washington and Alexandria for the years 1997 through 2001.
In 2001, Fairfax County had 292 pedestrian injuries and 18 pedestrian fatalities. The City of Alexandria had 79 injuries and two fatalities.
The last pedestrian fatality in the Route 1 Corridor occurred on May 24, when Deborah Reynolds, trying to cross the busy highway at 9 p.m. by not using a crosswalk or intersection, was struck and killed. According to police, she had been drinking and ran into the path of a 1996 Pontiac Bonneville.
The third E of the Montgomery County initiative is education. In order for that to be successful, it must apply to drivers and pedestrian equally. But as Lyons emphasized, "It's long overdue that Fairfax look at what Montgomery County is doing."