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Pedestrians in Crosswalks Have a $500 Advantage

New signs aim to protect and to curb deaths along Route 1

Crossing Richmond Highway just got a little safer for pedestrians. If they stay within the lines.

Fairfax County officials and civic activists gathered at the intersection of Richmond Highway and Sherwood Hall Lane April 15, to install the first signs warning motorists: "Yield to Pedestrian in Crosswalk - $100 - $500 Violation Fine."

"Pedestrians have not been particularly safe in Fairfax County. Now these signs will enforce our new law," said Katherine K. Hanley, chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, at the dedication ceremony.

"In Fairfax County we've had more pedestrian fatalities than homicides," she said. "Now 75 intersections throughout the county will get these signs. They are to both protect pedestrians and encourage them to use the crosswalks."

Joining Hanley at the event were Fairfax County supervisors Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who share the Route 1 corridor; state Sen. Linda T. Puller (D-36th); Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44th); Col. J. Thomas Manger, chief, Fairfax Police; David J. Lyons, director, Safe Crossing Campaign; and Robert Brubaker, director, MetroPed.

"This is an initiative that came to the General Assembly as a result of the efforts by many people in this part of the county. Toddy and I have worked very hard in getting it approved," Amundson said

Puller noted, "I live very near Route 1. I drive up and down it constantly. At dusk it is very hard to see people as they dash across the road. I have nearly hit several people myself."

Chief Manger pointed out, "Over the past five years there have been 136 crashes involving pedestrians in the Richmond Highway corridor.

"We average 15 pedestrians killed each year in Fairfax County. Four have been killed within the past year on this stretch alone."

COUNTYWIDE, DURING the past five years, there have been 1,604 crashes with 74 pedestrians killed and 1,597 injured. Of those killed and injured on Richmond Highway, 74 percent were not crossing at an intersection, according to county statistics.

Manger emphasized, "The police have the responsibility to enforce this new law and to educate both motorists and pedestrians. Every motorist and pedestrian we stop will get a copy of our pedestrian safety brochure."

That brochure, titled "Safe Pedestrian Travel, Walking Between the Lines," has been printed in both English and Spanish. It lists basic pedestrian safety advice, what to teach children about crossing streets, hints on how to dress if walking in bad weather, and "Fatal Facts."

Some of those listed in the latter category include the following:

* One in seven people killed in motor vehicle crashes is a pedestrian;.

* Pedestrians are more likely to be killed by a stranger in a vehicle than at the hands of a stranger with a weapon;

* Pedestrian deaths are equivalent to a commercial airline crash, with no survivors, occurring every three weeks.

MANGER ALSO ASSURED that enforcement would be equal for pedestrians and motorists. "It's going to be equal-opportunity enforcement," he stated.

Capt. Jesse F. Bowman, commander, Traffic Division, emphasized, "Pedestrians have the obligation to cross within the crosswalks. But, enforcement comes under a different section of the Virginia Motor Vehicle Code for pedestrians than for motorists. The amount of the fine for pedestrians is up to the judge."

Bowman also explained, "If a pedestrian arbitrarily steps off the curb in a high-speed area not using a crosswalk, the motorist has the right of way in Virginia. If the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less, the pedestrian always has the right of way, whether in a crosswalk or not."

During the official ceremony, Hyland had noted that in his home state of Massachusetts, "Pedestrians always have the right of way. People are inclined to take the shortest route, and the law is strictly enforced for pedestrians."

AS THE DIRECTOR of the group that has been pushing the hardest for more pedestrian safety measures along Richmond Highway, Lyons told those in attendance, "We consider this a very important first step. We are all on the same page to make this community a safer place to work, play and walk."

He emphasized, "This sign says to the thousands of motorists who use Route 1 every day, this is not just a cut-through to get off 95 when its backed up. It is the main street of a vibrant community."

Kauffman reminded everyone, "One of the key things to keep in mind is that this is just part of an overall transit plan. This is just the first step. Later this summer we will be putting other safety measures at 20 critical intersections in this area."

Failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks has long been a violation. However, the increased fine of up to $500 per violation was authorized by the General Assembly last year for Fairfax County.

Eleven other intersections throughout the county received signs this week. A maximum of 75 will appear throughout the spring, with others going up across the county over the next few years, according to the County Public Affairs Office.

After erecting the new sign at the curb on the west side of the intersection, the group made a ceremonial round-trip crossing of Richmond Highway. As Hyland noted, "We are going to make this ceremonial crossing, but we have the motor patrol officers here to protect us."

Just then a pedestrian dashed through traffic approximately 10 yards north of the crosswalk paying no attention to the sign, crosswalk, signalization or motorcycle officers waiting at the curb. He was the first to be "briefed" by those officers on safe crossing being a "two way street."