Safer streets: Crackdowns, crosswalks help peds

news-crosswalkA city public works crew installs a new crosswalk on April 22. Using city employees instead of outside contractors to implement pedestrian safety recommendations has offered "huge savings," says City Traffic Engineer Jeanie Alexander

Flashing lights, talking crosswalks, and police stings against driver in crosswalks– it's a welcome new world for pedestrians less than a year after a city committee recommended $700,000 in safety upgrades.

"I'm very grateful to the city for taking the time and helping to create an overall change in the relationship between pedestrians and drivers," says activist Kevin Cox.

While he's delighted by crosswalk and sidewalk improvements, including the new electronic gizmos, Cox says he's particularly happy that police have begun staking out crosswalks and ticketing drivers who fail to yield.

Between January 1 and April 21, officers ticketed 43 such drivers– a more than 600 percent increase over the previous year's period, when only seven tickets were issued.

It can be a matter of life and death, as, in the past eight months,at least six pedestrians have been struck on city streets– one fatally. But as recently as last summer, when police went on to private property to bust people walking over train tricks, the City actually seemed to be ticketing pedestrians more than drivers. So Cox welcomes the new crackdown on drivers.

"If it's well publicized," he says, "it will encourage people to obey the laws."

Pedestrian safety leapt in the public consciousness after two particular incidents in the autumn of 2007. In one, an officer arrested a man who shouted at a police officer turning into a dark crosswalk. Later, a wheelchair-bound pedestrian named Gerry Mitchell was struck by a police cruiser in another crosswalk in daylight–- and then issued a ticket while he was in a hospital.

Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, who defended his officers in both incidents (and who did not immediately return a reporter's call), faced scrutiny from City Council, which launched a Pedestrian Safety Committee in March 2008.

Eight months after that Committee issued recommendations, traffic engineer Jeanie Alexander says she's pleased to be executing them–- and proud of using public works staff.

"It's been a huge cost savings," she says.

Meanwhile, Mitchell says his already-precarious health worsened from his injuries, and while he's pleased the City has taken the measures, he believes that any City officials should find the new devices don't always buy enough time to cross streets.

"They need to go with someone that's physically challenged," he says, "and they'll see the problems."

Even with various unfixed details, activist Cox–- previously known for vociferous criticism–- is now singing a different tune.

"I think Charlottesville is going to be on forefront of pedestrian safety if they keep it up," he says, "and I'm excited about that."

–last updated 10:23am, Friday, May 8


The Hook deserves credit for shining light on this issue--this is journalism at it's best

As long as there's right-turn-on-red, pedestrians will not be safe in crosswalks.

Enforcement of our laws in wonderful and appreciated. I would also like to ask the pedestrians' help also: Please remember to push the walk button that is put at the end of some of the crosswalks. Please do not stop to chat at the end of a crosswalk when you do not intend to cross...move away from the crosswalk to converse. Please do not arrange for your ride to pick you up "at the crosswalk," but move on down the street so not to give a mixed signal to drivers. If walking at dusk and/or at night please help in wearing some light clothing which is easy to see. When crossing at the crosswalk please get eye contact with the approaching drivers.

Only in a lib town like Cville could someone come up with a term like "the relationship between drivers and pedestrians." If I could drive along and have a relationship with pedestrians, I'd drive through the UVa Campus (NOT Grounds) and contract every STD in the book! Additionally, I am just super-duper pleased as punch that our officers are sitting idly at crosswalks as a new means to generate revenue. Do they also ticket the oblivious dolts carrying their covered-Lattes whilst crossing against the little red picture of the androgynous figure posturing to locomote forward (you know, the sign that used to simply say "DON'T WALK" versus "WALK."

George Carlin was spot on: the pussification of America!

quote: "Do they also ticket the oblivious dolts carrying their covered-Lattes whilst crossing against the little red picture of the androgynous figure posturing to locomote forward (you know, the sign that used to simply say ââ?¬Å?DON’T WALK” versus ââ?¬Å?WALK.”"

Keep dreaming!

I have noticed the new pedestrian measures have cut down on the amount of police cars running over people though.