City announces ‘Vision Zero’ plan

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By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Alexandria officials announced Tuesday that city staff will pursue implementing Vision Zero, an international project aimed at eliminating all traffic deaths, next year, following a spate of serious crashes involving pedestrians in the city this year.

Deputy Police Chief Chris Wemple told city council that although the number of reportable crashes has decreased, fatalities have spiked, while overall calls for service for traffic crashes remained flat. As of November 30, there have been 67 pedestrian-re- lated crashes in Alexandria this year, compared with 73 in 2015. But four pedestrians died, up from only one in 2015.

“When they happen, they’re thoroughly investigated, and where drivers are found to be responsible, they are charged,” Wemple said. “This is what we’ve seen. We don’t have an interpretation yet about why reports [of crashes] are going down, but overall the volume of crashes remains flat at this time.”

Earlier this month, Del Ray resident Rosemarie Cruz died after she was struck by a car while crossing the street at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and West Glebe Road. Police have charged the driver, Karin Sheire, 77, of Montana with failure to yield to pedestrians.

And last week, a pedestrian was sent to a hospital with serious injuries after a car hit them in the intersection of North Fairfax and Pendleton streets in Old Town.

City transportation director Yon Lambert said the increase in pedestrian fatalities is not limited to within Alexandria’s borders.

“The circumstances have varied, but the numbers certainly caught our eye,” he said. “It’s important to point out here that when we look at the city’s rate of fatal crashes per 100,000 people, it is comparable to what we’re seeing in Arlington and less than what we’re seeing in D.C. and Fairfax County.

“And we’re certainly all aware of reports in the national media and studies done locally that pedestrian fatalities are rising.”

And while city council acted Tuesday to provide a short-term fix to existing city regulations — adjusting a city ordinance regarding motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks to ensure fines apply to all crosswalks, not just ones particularly marked for enforcement — Lambert said city staff plan to bring council a resolution for Alexandria to adopt the popular Vision Zero framework next year.

Vision Zero is an international project to try to reduce the number of traffic deaths to zero. First approved in Sweden in 1997, the initiative in part stresses that all deaths on the roads are preventable and aims to make safety paramount in transportation policy-making. Adopting the program is already listed as a goal in the city’s bike and pedestrian master plan.

“One of the most important opportunities coming up … is the adoption of a Vision Zero policy resolution,” Lambert said. “It would be an acknowledgement by the city that we feel that all traffic deaths are preventable, and it would set aggressive targets to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries.”

Lambert said implementing such a framework would require greater collaboration across various city agencies, including the Alexandria Police Department, and would include a significant public outreach and education effort.

“Importantly, this type of program would help complement some of the engineering efforts and initiatives we have in place, and it would be a data-driven multidisciplinary effort with our partners in the police and other departments around the city,” he said. “We will be doing targeted outreach and education to address some of the issues that we’ve just discussed.”

And in the meantime, Lambert said his agency is working to implement a number of initiatives to improve safety across all modes of transportation, from so-called leading intervals, where pedestrians are given two to four seconds between traffic light changes to get established in an intersection, to the installation of HAWK beacons — a mid- block crosswalk with a signal that pedestrians can trigger before crossing the street — in some roadways.

Mayor Allison Silberberg and City Councilor Tim Lovain both suggested adding more Stop signs where appropriate, among other measures.

“We should consider more Stop signs, lower speed limits and more no turn on red signals,” Lovain said.

“I would love to see more four-way Stop signs in Del Ray like we have in Old Town,” Silberberg added. “You know on streets like Dewitt, sometimes you come to a street and there’s no stop, but then the next street it’s a four-way. People make assumptions and it becomes a free-for-all.”

And Vice Mayor Justin Wilson suggested that moving forward, council try to stay out of micro-level decisions regarding how to improve safety.

“We need to do big, bold things, and we know what the data shows,” Wilson said. “[But] we have to stop as politicians — stop being traffic engineers, because we’re not very good at that. We know what the data shows and what things we can do to improve safety, so let’s do them. Let’s not be afraid to do them be- cause politically they might not be so great.”

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