One of the most-dreaded calls I get from our public safety personnel is the notification of a pedestrian accident. In the past two weeks, I’ve received two of those calls, and both incidents could, and should, have been prevented. The first, which resulted in the death of a female pedestrian, occurred on Leesburg Pike, near Seven Corners, just west of a signalized pedestrian crossing and a brand new sidewalk. The second involved two middle school students at their bus stop in a quiet residential neighborhood. Fortunately, their injuries were not life-threatening. Both incidents are under investigation, but it appears that pedestrian error was a factor in each; drivers were traveling within the speed limit, and the pavements were clear and dry.
With the change last weekend to standard time, evenings are darker earlier, an additional risk for drivers and pedestrians. Speed humps and traffic calming devices may slow vehicular traffic in neighborhoods, but they do not protect pedestrians who may be crossing improperly or cannot be seen walking along the edge of roadways. Clearly, pedestrians and drivers alike must be educated and aware of safety needs, and avoid the tragic calls to Board members and victims’ families. That is why the Board supported my request, proposed at our October 28 meeting, that county agencies work in concert with the police and fire departments to raise awareness about pedestrian safety through media announcements, school information circuits, foreign language media, and any other method that can get the word out and reduce or eliminate these tragic occurrences. The Board also supported my request that a pedestrian safety campaign timeline be developed so that pedestrian safety can be highlighted on a regular basis throughout each year.
Here are some safety tips from the Fairfax County Police Department:
• Pedestrians: Cross the street at marked crosswalks and intersections only. Before crossing, look left, right, and then left again. Use pedestrian pushbuttons at signalized intersections, and begin crossing the street on “Walk” signal. Don’t start walking across the street if the “Don’t Walk” or “hand” signal is illuminated. Wait for the next cycle to cross safely. If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic. You will be able to see a vehicle coming, but the driver may not be able to see you along the side of the road, so wear light clothing or reflectors when walking after dark.
• Drivers: Stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. Slow down and obey posted speed limits. Look before opening your vehicle door. Allow three feet clearance when passing cyclists. Always come to a complete stop before turning right on a red light, and watch for pedestrians who have the right of way.
• Cyclists: Always wear a helmet. Ride in a straight line to the right of traffic, and obey all regulatory signs and traffic lights. Use lights at night and when visibility is poor. Use hand signals to tell motorists what you intend to do.
Fairfax County has had six pedestrian fatalities this year to date, compared to five all of last year. There have been 118 pedestrian-related crashes so far this year county-wide; there were 146 in 2013. Let’s not add to these statistics. Be safe and aware.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.