Safer streets: Crackdowns, crosswalks help peds
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