Exploding traffic volume combined with radically altered demographics is a recipe for death and injury. That was the primary message sounded over and over Tuesday night at the first Regional Forum on Pedestrian Safety.
Held under the joint sponsorship of the Safe Crossings Coalition of Fairfax County and the Citizens Advisory Committee to The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, it brought together representatives from a host of organizations as well as state and county government in a quest to stop the carnage.
According to Safe Crossings, "Pedestrian safety is a national problem" and one that is growing. There are "13 pedestrians killed every day and one every 111 minutes." This is particularly true along the Richmond Highway corridor of Fairfax County where "almost 3,000 pedestrians have been struck since 1995."
David J. Lyons, director, Safe Crossings Campaign, who was instrumental in bringing about the regional forum said, "It's imperative that we link everything together and work across the river. We are continuing to push to make crossing the road not a death defying act."
Moderated by Fairfax County Supervisor Dana Kauffman (Lee), the event was held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 8592 Richmond Highway, which is in his district. "We chose this location in order to emphasize this is a grassroots effort by all citizens interested in solving this problem. It has been, and continues to be, a very important issue for the Route 1 corridor," Kauffman said.
LEADING OFF A list of speakers for the hour and a half program was William Bronrott, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, District 16. "Route 1 is a symbol of our struggle to build a walkable community. It's a regional problem. Pedestrian safety is a Washington regional challenge that knows no borders," he insisted.
"There are more people killed throughout the area just trying to cross the roads than in all our homicides," he emphasized. "It's about dangerous driving and safe walking."
Bronrott has been instrumental in introducing legislation in Maryland to increase pedestrian safety and stiffen penalties for driving in a manner that places pedestrians in harm's way. He participated in the formation of the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Coalition which has as its motto "Drive With Care - Walk With Caution."
He cited Montgomery County as a leader in attacking the problem. Bronrott told the audience that Montgomery County had issued a report with 54 recommendations for improving pedestrian safety in that jurisdiction.
"The guiding principle should be that as we build transportation systems they must include people on foot," he said. The report is a blueprint that emphasized three primary points, according to Bronrott:
1. Every time there is developmental growth in Montgomery County there needs to be a Pedestrian Impact Statement.
2. Engineering and education programs should be targeted when analyzing at the problem.
3. A serious problem exists within the Hispanic and Asian communities in not understanding the language and not being familiar with the surrounding culture.
"Calling a town meeting to address the problem doesn't work with the Hispanic community," Bronrott said. This was verified by another Safe Crossing statistic which shows 50 percent of pedestrians struck on Route 1 are Hispanic.
OTHER HIGH RISK groups, according to Safe Crossings, include children, seniors, and the homeless. They noted there have been 18 fatalities in the past several year and four since January 2002, as well as many serious injuries.
Maryland's pedestrian safety programs include a Safe Route to School Program, Bronrott noted. "It is geared to where kids walk to school to make sure every child has a safe route to school everyday," he said.
"Engineering is a critical part of the puzzle. We must invest more into innovative engineering," Bronrott stated. As examples he cited the lighted crosswalks in Arlington that are activated when someone steps into them and the timed crossing signals in use in Alexandria.
Kauffman picked up on the pedestrian impact statement by noting, "This would be particularly appropriate for Fairfax County with all our development. I intend to bring it to the attention of the Board of Supervisors."
John Wetmore, producer, Perils for Pedestrians, cable television program, stated, "There should be a continuous sidewalk parallel to Route 1. Every street built in an urban area should have a sidewalk on both sides."
Every pedestrian needs three things, according to Wetmore: 1. A way to walk parallel to the street; 2. A safe way to walk across a street; and 3. A place to walk to, such as a store.
CLOSELY ALLIED WITH pedestrian safety is that of bicycle safety. William J. Kelly, College Area Bicycle Coalition, College Park, MD, pointed out, "Ninety eight percent of all our transportation money goes to enhancing vehicles thoroughfares.
"Getting more aid for pedestrian and bicycle safety is going to be a long, long trip. We need to change the culture. And, we need to work together. We've got to break these highways down so that there is a specific area for bike riders."
He also noted, "The problem comes down to the three "E's" - enforcement, education, and engineering." In addressing the first two, enforcement and education, Kelly stated that his organization is trying to educate bike riders to adhere to the traffic laws the same as vehicle drivers and to encourage police to enforce those laws on bike riders.
"We want bike riders to be arrested if they don't adhere to traffic laws. They do it in California."
As for activities underway in Fairfax County, Chris Wells, pedestrian program manager, Fairfax County Department of Transportation, stated, "This has been a banner year for the Board of Supervisors in addressing the problems along the Route 1 corridor."
He explained, "In addition to creating my job, we have initiated a regional advertising campaign on both buses and on television to advance pedestrian safety." He also cited the placement of special signs at crosswalks along Route 1 and on Huntington Avenue.
A BIG BOOST was given to the Route 1 efforts when $43,000 was provided by the Board of Supervisors in the reallocation process, according to Wells. This money came from the office budget savings of Supervisors Kauffman and Gerald W. Hyland, Mount Vernon District, and Vice Chairman of the Board.
Wells specified the need to have the Virginia legislature change the tern "yield" to "stop" when dealing with vehicles and pedestrians in crosswalks. "This will be a priority in the next legislative session," he assured. "It's too ambiguous for the courts."
Fairfax County's major efforts in the next year, according to Wells, will include studying the 20 most dangerous intersections throughout the county and all the buses stops countywide. Seven of the 20 intersections are located along the Route 1 corridor.
"The Board has decided to fund a $1.5 million project to study all bus stops in the county to determine their appropriateness. There are between 5,000 and 7,000 of them. Route 1 stops will be one of the first areas to be studied," he promised.
Two representatives of the Virginia Department of Transportation were present to explain their role in aiding increased pedestrian safety. Fatemeh Allahdoust, senior transportation engineer, circulated a list of VDOT Pedestrian Safety Initiatives.
At the top was VDOT's three year campaign known as "Street Smart." It is Virginia's contribution to the regional pedestrian and bicycle safety outreach effort and calls for a $100,000 investment in Fiscal Year 2003, according to her handout.
VDOT IS planning a comprehensive system of pedestrian and bicycle improvements as part of its study along a 27 mile stretch of Route 1. It will include: crosswalk and pedestrian signals at all signalized intersections; sidewalks and pedestrian/bike trails on opposite sides of the highway; a curbed median to provide an area of refuge for pedestrians; and redesigned and relocated bus stops that will better integrate the needs of transit users and pedestrians.
Other VDOT initiatives include: monthly meetings with Fairfax County police regarding safety issues; working with county staff on specific recommendations to improve pedestrian safety in the county; and work with the Friends of the W&OD Trail to improve safety at intersections.
Allahdoust also listed four legislative priorities in the 2002 session for VDOT impacting the pedestrian safety issue:
. HB 1027 - Failure of motorists to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in certain crosswalks. This changed the Virginia code to allowing the governing bodies of Fairfax City, Fairfax and Loudoun counties to enact ordinances increasing fines for failure to yield from $25 to a range of $100 to $500.
. SB 393 - Requires development of a statewide pedestrian policy. It will be prepared as a part of the second phase of the Statewide Transportation Plan starting in early 2003. The plan is in three phases with the final product scheduled for 2005.
. SB 382 - Funding pedestrian improvements apart from highway projects. VDOT is planning to prepare a resource guide for pedestrian accommodations as a companion to the Virginia Bicycle Facility Guide.
. HB 836 - Creation of a Transportation Safety Board within the Department of Motor Vehicles. It requires pedestrian and bicycle advocates to be represented on the Board as appointed by the Governor.
When Lyons announced the forum he stated, "There seems to be a consensus that the Route 1 corridor can serve as a laboratory for looking at both the problem and potential solutions."
In assessing the results of the forum, he stated, "I'm hoping after tonight, we won't have to use Montgomery County any more to show Fairfax County what it should be doing."