Streets Safe For All
Excerpt from Justin's January Newsletter
In 2012, a drunk driver killed a child walking along the road near Landmark Mall. His mother was also seriously injured.
In 2013, another child, while trick-or-treating, was hit by a vehicle on Russell Road. While seriously injured, he fortunately survived.
A year and a half ago, a long-time City resident was hit and killed at an intersection in Del Ray.
In May of last year, a biker was hit and seriously injured on Duke at West Taylor Run.
A few days later, a pedestrian was hit by a drunk driver in Old Town. The pedestrian died a little over a month later.
The data shows that vehicle accidents have trended downward over the past five years, peaking at 1,713 in 2012, and were on pace for under 1,300 to finish out 2016. Overall accidents involving pedestrians have stayed steady at roughly five or six per month. Yet the four pedestrian deaths last year was the highest count in years.
Each of these tragic incidents change the lives of the victims and their families in dramatic ways. But for each tragedy, there are also countless close calls and near misses.
In Alexandria, we are fortunate to have pedestrian scale, walkable neighborhoods with urban amenities throughout our City. Yet if residents do not feel they can safely traverse the streets of our City, then all the urban amenities are for naught.
The City has invested millions of taxpayer dollars to improve pedestrian safety throughout our community. Those resources have included improving pedestrian access to schools, building and improving sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming efforts, bike lanes, new signalization, and more. With the recent large increases in road resurfacing budgets, the Council has also steered new dollars into our "Complete Streets" efforts, the City's program for improving non-vehicular infrastructure.
Yet there are still areas of our City where sidewalks are non-existent or unusable, intersections are unsafe and unsafe driving is rampant. We must improve the safety of our streets for all users. Doing so requires changing the behavior of all users of our roads.
In the current budget, the Council expanded the Alexandria Police Department's traffic enforcement capacity by 30%. We also provided additional overtime funding to ensure expanded traffic enforcement until those resources come online.
Last year, the Council adopted an overhaul of the City's Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan. Early this year, we will kick-off a Vision Zero initiative for Alexandria. While such an initiative will involve significant resources and planning, it simply means that we would design road spaces, traffic regulations and operations to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries.
Alarmed by these recent incidents, the Council held a discussion regarding pedestrian safety last month at our first legislative meeting. You can watch the staff presentation and the Council discussion online.
My view is that in order to significantly improve pedestrian safety in our City, we will have to be willing to make trade-offs in the pursuit of safety. The data shows that the changes that will most significantly improve safety, are also the most controversial in our community. We have to follow the research.
The first phase of the King Street Complete Streets effort involved the removal of parking, narrowing of travel lanes, improved crosswalks, signage, new bike lanes, etc., to reduce speed and improve safety. The initial analysis shows that the project has reduced speed, reduced accidents and improved safety.
The second phase of the work on King Street was an even more dramatic overhaul of the corridor, including reductions of travel lanes, pedestrian islands, crosswalks, etc. Data collection will be conducted on these changes in the future.
On Seminary and Quaker, the City reduced speed limits to improve safety. The initial review of this action has indicated a reduction in speed and accidents.
We have also looked at signalization efforts that can improve safety. At the site of one recent pedestrian fatality, the City created a "Leading Pedestrian Interval" to allow residents to get a head-start crossing before traffic can move.
We have also explored the creation of additional "pedestrian scrambles" to create an "all pedestrian" phase at problematic intersections.
We have HAWK (High Intensity Activated crossWalK) signals in place to ensure high visibility of pedestrians in high traffic corridors.
In response to concerns among several neighborhoods in the center of the City, the City is currently conducting data collection to guide future mitigation efforts for traffic concerns in several neighborhoods.
As I mentioned during the Council discussion last month, I do believe there is more we can do.
The research shows that speed is closely linked with the lethality of a pedestrian accident. Lowering speed limits where appropriate will likely be in our toolbox around the City.
Reducing traffic lanes, or so-called "road diets," can improve safety. As we approach future road resurfacing, removing lanes will likely be an option we consider.
Allowing right turns on red was pushed by the Federal Government during the 1970s as a response to the energy crisis. Some communities in the country are banning right turns on red to improve pedestrian safety.
It has been the City's practice to announce enforcement efforts for intoxicated driving in advance, as well as announce the results afterwards. We should do the same with our traffic enforcement. I believe greater transparency will help get the message out and improve safety throughout our City.
I also believe it is time to budget for safer streets differently than we have in the past. We now view road paving, sidewalk improvements, and our complete streets investments as a program, rather than discrete investments. It's time to budget and plan accordingly.
W.e need your input! Are there particular areas of our City that you feel are unsafe and need attention? Are there intersections that are unsafe? Are there incomplete sections of sidewalk? Are there places where signage can be improved? Please use Call, Click, Connect to bring those areas to the attention of our city staff for analysis.
Alexandrians should be able to use our streets safely. We will have to take ourselves out of our comfort zone to make that happen. Let me know your thoughts.