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Danger: Don't Cross There

Mount Vernon District uses education, enforcement and engineering to help reduce accidents.

"It’s a slow process, but if we can save one life then it’s worth it.”

Armed with that mantra, Sgt. John Harris and other officers from the Mount Vernon District Police Station are spending the week conducting an aggressive pedestrian enforcement campaign.

“We have a lot of great ideas,” Harris said. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of officers but we’ve got to do it.”

Their goal is to combat injuries and deaths due to pedestrian crashes. Between Monday, Oct. 10 and Friday, Oct. 14, police will be out in force, ticketing pedestrians who violate state and local laws on Richmond Highway and in Huntington.

As of Wednesday morning, officers had given out several warnings and several tickets; final numbers will be released next week. They had also distributed hundreds of flyers, printed in both English and Spanish outlining the commonly used code sections regulating pedestrians.

The Mount Vernon District Station had two of the five fatal pedestrian crashes in Fairfax County this year and 38 of the 298 pedestrian crashes in 2004. Flyers have been distributed to apartment complexes, motels and other businesses along Richmond Highway in both English and Spanish. They offer pedestrian safety tips to the community and warn of this enforcement campaign.

“A lot of people don’t know the law,” said Officer Steve Cicinato, who was one of the officers working on the campaign.

“We want to educate officers, drivers and citizens,” he said. “We’re looking where people are violating. One of those places is the Engleside area; the other is the area between Spring Garden Apartments and Mount Vernon Multiplex.”

Cicinato was out on the street first thing Monday morning and it didn’t take long before he saw people violating the law at the latter location. Instead of using the crosswalk located at the intersection at Richmond Highway and Sherwood Hall Lane, people cross directly from the apartment complex to the bus stop located between the 7-Eleven and Mr. Kleen Car Wash.

“This area is very bad,” Cicinato said explaining that many day laborers come from the apartments to the 7-Eleven looking for work. Others just cross there to get across quicker.

SHEILA HUNT did not take the shortcut. Instead she walked from the apartment complex up to the crosswalk and then back down Richmond Highway.

Cicinato commended her for doing the right thing, and she said, “They [the cars] will run you over. I always go to the crosswalk. I have kids and I’m trying to teach them. I don’t want them to dodge traffic.”

Jason Smith, however, did not use the crosswalk. Rather than give him a ticket, Cicinato asked him if he knew that he broke the law by crossing there. Smith seemed surprised and Cicinato handed him a copy of the pedestrian laws.

“It [the crosswalk] wasn’t that far away. What would you do if I wrote you a ticket?” Cicinato asked.

“I’d be mad at myself,” Smith said. “He gave me a break, I did something stupid.”

Cicinato is hoping that people like Smith will tell his friends about the incident and that he and others will start changing their behavior.

Cicinato is also hoping that people like Al Henderson will talk to people. Henderson stopped by while Cicinato was handing out literature and said that he had been complaining about how dangerous Richmond Highway is.

“You’re preaching to the choir,” Cicinato said. “We need you to spread your views to other people and tell everybody not to cross [without a crosswalk].”

“I know that you don’t have enough manpower but it helps to have people see you out here,” Henderson said,

Cicinato agrees and said, “The only way is exposure. If they see police, they will stop, look and listen.”

CICINATO SAID that Harris was leading the steering committee and that he was the brains behind this campaign. As part of the campaign, Harris set up a message board flashing reminders such as: “Reduce Speed,” “Travel Safe” “Crosswalk Ahead” and “Watch for Pedestrians in Crosswalk.” That sign will be moved to various sites throughout the week.

As he and PFC Dave Plaska were setting the sign up in front of Wal-Mart, a woman crossed Richmond Highway from the Wal-Mart side to the intersection by Virginia Commerce Bank. Although she was crossing while the light was still green, she was in the crosswalk and Harris pointed out that a car making a right-hand turn from Sherwood Hall Lane onto Richmond Highway was supposed to yield.

“That driver should have yielded to her,” Harris said. “Too many drivers forget to look to the right and the left when turning. It is very easy for them to miss a young child who might be crossing the street.”

When asked if medians were the answer, his response was that medians would cause more traffic because they would be used instead of the inside lanes currently used to allow drivers to pull over to make left and right-hand turns.

“If you take that away, what are you doing to traffic?” Harris said. “Everybody is in a hurry — it’s a vicious cycle.”

At this week’s Mount Vernon Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, Capt. Mike Kline, commander, Mount Vernon District Station, said, “I would love it if I never had to give a ticket but we have to keep people from getting hit.”

HARRIS SAID that they take three main principles into account when trying to deal with pedestrian safety: Education, Enforcement and Engineering.

They are educating by doing this campaign; enforcing by giving out tickets; and helping with engineering by deciding where crosswalks should go. Cicinato said that the county has decided to remove the crosswalk at Highland Lane and Richmond Highway; Brenda Lewis was killed while crossing in that crosswalk on July 5.

Harris said that the steering committee is involved in recommending where to put crosswalks and blinking lights. They are also working with the Fairfax Connector Bus system to move bus stops closer to crosswalks.

Robert Brubaker, director, Metroped Inc., said, “My concern remains that there are too many high population locations along the Fairfax/Route One segment without the necessary infrastructure for pedestrians to safely cross. Education Campaigns that direct pedestrians to use crosswalks are less effective at locations where no nearby signalized

crosswalk exists. I'm currently very interested in finding a way to help the MVCCA (Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Association) secure as least one and hopefully four pedestrian safe refuge medians where no signalized intersection is nearby.”

Dallas Shawkey, Public Safety Committee chair for Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Association (MVCCA), spoke about those four options at this week’s CAC meeting. Shawkey feels that enforcement is good but that people will cross where they want to cross, and said, “Fairfax and VDOT have not provided for people who are going to do it anyway. Drivers need to recognize where the pedestrian crossings are.”

“People have got to cross the highway,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland. “I’m not sure how to stop them from crossing in the middle — maybe barriers? The problem is that we have bus stops across the street from apartment complexes and it is human nature to take the shortest route.”