Legal Review: What Richmond is Doing About Record-Breaking Pedestrian Deaths

In 2020, a shocking 32 people were hit by vehicles and killed while walking in the Richmond area. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles says this is the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the last decade.

The rate of pedestrian deaths has been growing across the country. In the first half of 2020, there was a 20% rise in pedestrian fatalities. Almost 3,000 people were killed by drivers.

Problems with dangerous driving have been on the rise, including speeding and distracted driving. When combined with more people escaping their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the chance for accidents skyrocketed.

Changing Dangerous Driving Behaviors

Richmond officials are determined to change the risky driving behavior they have been seeing more of recently. Last year, a study was launched that they hope will help form new policy and traffic ordinances.

New bills have been passed by state lawmakers, too, to bring harsher penalties to drivers who harm or kill pedestrians and to lower the chances of these accidents. These include banning drivers from using devices like cell phones and allowing speed limits to be as low as 15 mph in some areas.

Richmond has also been working on its Vision Zero initiative, focused on protecting pedestrians and bicyclists from vehicle traffic. The plan is being coordinated by Mike Sawyer, a transportation engineer, with the goal of having zero pedestrian injuries and deaths every year.

Vision Zero originated in Sweden in the 1990s and went on to help lower the number of pedestrian deaths across Europe. The Vision Zero Network is now helping a number of U.S. cities protect their pedestrians by bringing great minds together to overcome common road safety challenges.

Making Strides to Protect Pedestrians

Richmond is hard at work trying to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe. The City Council recently passed a resolution to install speed cameras around school zones. The city has also created new crosswalks, crosswalk signals, and bike lanes in dangerous school areas to protect students.

Across the city, 450 crosswalks have been installed as part of Vision Zero. 20 miles of new bike lanes have also been installed, along with new traffic beacons. Many of the more dangerous intersections will also get new signs warning drivers to stop for pedestrians.

“Other cities with high rates of pedestrian injuries and fatalities are keeping their eyes on Richmond’s approach to road safety, so this has the potential to make a real impact in protecting pedestrians,” says Lauren Carroll of Commonwealth Law Group.

There are many areas, including suburban and rural locations, that are looking to further protect pedestrians and cyclists in their cities and towns.

Overcoming Road Safety Challenges

The city of Richmond realizes that new signs, crosswalks, and bike lanes can only accomplish so much. Finding a way to end dangerous, risky driving behaviors in the city will continue to be a major battle.

The city is finding it challenging to engineer safer streets without causing more hazards and distractions for drivers. The people working behind the scenes at Vision Zero, along with the city of Richmond, know that pedestrian fatalities are not inevitable and can be prevented. As improvements to local infrastructure continue to be made, Richmond will hopefully begin to see a positive impact on pedestrian safety.

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