City officials continue to implement the Complete Streets program, with a vision of shared roadways between cars, bicycles and pedestrians. The focus in these deliberations usually boils down to cars versus bikes — with some regard shown for homeowners’ worries about parking and property values. It seems like pedestrians finish last in this race for priority.
The first role of government is physical protection — otherwise we would live in a Hobbesian state of nature. Precedence should be given to protecting the most exposed among us.
And in a road shared with cars and bikes, the pedestrian — or their dog — is most at risk. This vulnerability has been on evidence in recent months, as a series of incidents have resulted in pedestrians or their pets being hit and even killed by cars and bikes in Alexandria.
There are numerous causes for pedestrian accidents, some more easily controlled than others.
Inexperienced drivers or impaired pedestrians or motorists are sometimes contributing factors. Likewise, accidents can occur when motorists or pedestrians are distracted by their phones. It’s infuriating and frightening to see a motorist driving erratically — including rolling through stop signs — while talking on a cell phone. And many Alexandria cyclists don’t even slow down, let along stop, in intersections.
It’s little wonder our fabulous walking neighborhoods feel a bit under siege.
Fortunately, there are some concrete actions that can be taken and that city staff is reportedly working on.
Foremost is the need to sync city code with that of the state so that motorists and cyclists can be ticketed if they don’t yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Astonishingly, city code currently only allows ticketing for not yielding in crosswalks designated for fines. If cars or bikes don’t stop for the rest, they appear to be immune from being fined.
The city also recently installed pedestrian countdown signals at more intersections, which will help walkers get out of the roadway before the light changes. These are common sense measures, and ones that will definitely help.
We have a few more suggestions. First, actually enforce jaywalking prohibitions. When pedestrians cross in the middle of busy roadways, like Duke Street or U.S. Route 1, they vastly increase the chance of an accident, particularly at night. And when pedestrians move into crosswalks against the light, they put themselves at risk and disrupt traffic.
In addition, actually ticket the cyclists who blow through intersections. While a bicycle is not as dangerous as a car, if one is traveling quickly at impact it can certainly hurt a pedestrian or kill a dog.
Once city code is changed, local police should make ticketing for crosswalk violations a priority. And perhaps if enough motorists and cyclists and pedestrians are each cited for disobeying the law, then our streets will become not only complete — but also safe.