During the first week of April, the Mount Vernon District Police Station embarked on their annual Pedestrian Enforcement program. This initiative is held in the spring and fall of every year, and was launched in 2005.
"The program is always similar to the previous one, but we try to tweak it each time to really maximize our efforts," said Sergeant Scott Delcore.
This initiative begins with officers giving out handouts on pedestrian safety tips and laws all over the Mount Vernon area. These fact sheets are delivered to apartment complexes and passed out on buses, at bus stops, and in schools and numerous other locations.
"I think we covered a good proportion of the population," said Delcore. "I think the apartment complexes in particular, really appreciated it. As soon as they saw me coming they knew why I was there."
Officer Daryl Davis agrees about the importance of reaching the public with the educational aspect to the program saying, "We try to pass out as much information as possible to not just pedestrians, but motorists too."
Pedestrian Enforcement Week was started to decrease the number of pedestrian-related car crashes that was at a particular high in 2002 and 2003.
Though Delcore said there was no particular trend with the age/gender of people involved in these accidents, he did feel that they are often caused by the pedestrians as opposed to motorists.
"Sometimes it’s the drivers that are at fault, but most of the time in this area, it’s the pedestrians," said Delcore, as to why it was especially important to give written warnings to pedestrians who cross the street illegally.
Mount Vernon Police Department’s Crime Analysts, Amika A. Amin said that avoiding these pedestrian-related accidents is often directly linked to saving a life.
"There are a lot of incidents when the pedestrian is uninjured and the driver dies. They could swerve to miss someone and drive into a pole or cross the lanes and run into a median. But then there are also instances where the driver’s drunk," said Amin.
So far this year, there have been two fatalities in pedestrian-related accidents in the Mount Vernon district. Both deaths were pedestrians struck by moving vehicles; one was a suicide and the other, a pedestrian who was homeless, was intoxicated at the time he was hit.
Davis said that the majority of pedestrians he sees on a daily basis are using public transpiration and often take risks for this reason. "They’ll see a bus coming, so they’ll dart across traffic so they don’t miss it," said Davis of the pedestrians, who he most often sees along Route 1 in Mount Vernon. He said the areas where Route 1 intersects with both Ladson Lane and Beacon Hill Road are the most dangerous intersections because both are heavily populated due to nearby shopping centers.
When Davis and other officers see pedestrians cross the road illegally, they often give them a warning and an education pamphlet.
"They’ll cross right there in the cross walks against the lights and we tell them that’s illegal," said Davis. "We give warnings, or violations [which can mean going to court and often paying a fine] if need be, usually when it’s a repeat offender."
Davis, however, does not feel like most pedestrians he speaks with realize that they have crossed the street illegally. He thinks this because pedestrians often say that they always thought examining the traffic flow before they cross the road is enough.
"I’m a grown person, I know how to look both ways — it’s not like I want to get hit by a car," said a 20-year-old Alexandria woman as she received a warning notice for failing to use a crosswalk.
Despite issuing many warnings every day, Davis said that most people he gives them to are "very cooperative…..One guy said ‘you’re here to get your quota’ but that type of reaction doesn’t happen often," said Davis.
One of the more "typical" people Davis said he gave a warning to, was a 25-year-old female who admitted to having known someone who was killed crossing the street.
"I’ll have to be sure to tell my sister about this program," she said.
Davis says he gives warnings to pedestrians who have crossed the street illegally — but without a heavy flow of traffic — to break what he sees as a dangerous habit.
"Just looking both ways, but paying no attention to the traffic signal puts you into the mode of doing it regularly … and then there’s always that car that nobody sees," said Davis. He also feels that the more "hidden" vehicles are often motorcycles, because of their speed and because "people are looking for cars."
For the past few years, the Pedestrian Enforcement program seems to be working; officers feel people are being more conscientious as to where and when they cross the street.
"Most people use the cross walks these days, but there’s still a high population that doesn’t. We’re trying to bring those numbers down," said Davis.
Captain Mike Kline of the Mount Vernon District Police commends Pedestrian Enforcement Week for improving safety conditions for both pedestrians and motorists.
"What really impresses me is the drop from 2003 when we had 53 crashes," he said in reference to the 27 pedestrian-related crashes in 2006, "I’m hoping that this initiative has some relevance to the reduction."