Approximately 80 pedestrians die and 2,700 are injured each year throughout the Washington Metropolitan Region in confrontations between vehicles and people. That fact was the genesis of a campaign by area leaders to stem those statistics.
Know as "Street Smart," it brought together political leaders and police representatives from Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia Tuesday morning in Alexandria for a press conference at which an area wide "Pay Attention" campaign was launched. Missing from the gathering and noted by speakers were any state leaders or their representatives.
Standing at the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel under Duke Street which leads to the King Street Metro Station, Alexandria Mayor William Euille, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly, Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, and DC Chief of Police Charles Ramsey all emphasized the need for more consideration between pedestrians and drivers.
"The Metropolitan Police Department is very concerned and more than a little frustrated by pedestrian fatalities in the District. We've had six so far this year," Ramsey told the crowd .
A public awareness program launched in October 2002, "Street Smart" is an effort to "change driver and pedestrian behavior." It is based on the recognition that "responsibility for pedestrian incidents appears shared, almost equally, between drivers and pedestrians," according research by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
"We want to ensure that pedestrians and bicyclists are safe on our city streets. One quarter of all those killed in traffic accidents throughout the region are pedestrians and cyclists," said Alexandria City Councilman Ludwig Gaines who serves as Alexandria's representative to COG's Transportation Planning Board and was responsible for bringing this year's Street Smart initiative to the City. In 2005 and 2004 similar events, highlighting the regional program, were held in Arlington and Silver Spring, MD.
"The Street Smart pedestrian safety effort focuses on the four "E's," education, enforcement, engineering, and evaluation. The
education component targets pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers, and includes information about devices designed to enhance pedestrian
safety," Gaines, who also served as master of ceremonies for the event, told the audience.
"We have installed over 60 countdown crosswalk signals throughout the city to aid both pedestrians and drivers. But we are not alone. This is a region wide effort," Gaines said.
One of the primary causes of pedestrian deaths and injuries is jaywalking, according to accident analysis reports. Alexandria Mayor William Euille referred to that fact in his remarks. "There needs to have greater enforcement of jaywalking," he said referencing his own youth when he was cited for doing just that on a busy Alexandria street.
BRINGING ATTENTION TO THE MISSING component in the campaign, Connolly said, "The State of Virginia is not participating in this. The General Assembly has been no friend to this effort. We need the state to become a partner with the local jurisdictions."
He noted that much of Fairfax County was developed without sidewalks because it was more rural prior to its recent growth surge. "Building sidewalks for people to be safe is a big challenge in an area that is seven times the size of the District," he said.
"We recently put together a pedestrian safety plan that will be financed by a $60 million bond issue. We are doing a lot but we need help from Richmond," Connolly said.
"It is clear that creating pedestrian safe communities is an imperative. But, to do so requires a host of efforts. Arlington has spent millions on pedestrian safety over the past few years," Zimmerman said.
"These communities of Northern Virginia generate so much wealth for the Commonwealth. We need help from the state's lawmakers," he said echoing Connolly's plea.
Speaking for Montgomery County, Assistant Police Chief John King noted that they have taken a series of actions to improve both pedestrian and cyclist safety based on increased enforcement of traffic laws.
According to Northern Virginia statistics the most common traffic violation by drivers is inattention which accounts for 13 percent of crashes. For pedestrian it was crossing at mid-block or "jaywalking." This accounts for pedestrian violations ranging from 18 percent in Northern Virginia to 39 percent in Maryland.
"We must not forget that pedestrian safety is everybody's
responsibility," Gaines said. "This campaign is an opportunity for jurisdictional leaders to band together to show their commitment to the welfare of their communities."
Following the press conference a demonstration of traffic enforcement, geared toward both drivers and pedestrians, was on display at the intersection of Duke Street and Diagonal Road by Alexandria police.