By Olivia Anderson | firstname.lastname@example.org
Residents who have recently driven on North Beauregard Street or Sanger Avenue might notice something different about the intersection. On Sunday, a painted white scooter was placed to memorialize a crash victim who died in August and honor the World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims.
The air was cold and the atmosphere solemn as attendees listened to local officials and representatives from Alexandria’s chapter of Northern Virginia Families for Safe Streets discuss the ghost scooter and how to bolster Alexandria’s street safety efforts. Speakers included Mayor Justin Wilson, Interim Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt and Lt. Gregory Simon of the Alexandria Police Department.
The event, held in front of William Ramsay Elementary School, follows an incident in August in which a 16-year-old student at Wakefield High School in Arlington County, Miguel Ángel Rivera, was hit while riding an electric scooter home one evening. Rivera was riding south along North Beauregard Street and trying to turn left on Sanger Avenue when he was struck by a Toyota RAV-4 headed northbound. Rivera was transported to the hospital around 10:20 p.m. and died a few days later.
The idea to place the painted white scooter, or “ghost scooter,” at the intersection of Beauregard and Sanger was inspired by a known tradition in the bicycle community where if a fellow cyclist is killed on a road, a “ghost bike” is placed nearby.
“We’ve never seen or heard of anyone doing a ghost scooter, so one of our members suggested that and we thought it was a great idea and a great way to try to message the younger population the danger of these things, as well as the adults,” Mike Doyle, founder of FFSS, said.
A scooter company provided the organization with a disabled scooter, which was then painted white and unveiled at Sunday’s event. The ghost scooter is the first one in Northern Virginia.
During the gathering, FFSS members honored Rivera’s life with some words of remembrance. They also urged the city to implement safety measures in busy intersections like Sanger and Beauregard, such as installing speed enforcement cameras around school intersections, requiring continuous sidewalks in the final designs of all street and arterial road projects, realigning intersections and lighting at unsignalized crossing.
They encouraged the city to partner with FFSS on outreach and communication efforts, particularly through ACPS. They also encouraged the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services to utilize FFSS’ “nearmiss survey” which documents reports of near misses or incidents in which someone is almost hit by a car.
“[This will] better collect information about where the most dangerous locations are in our city, and to put that information to use in prioritizing policies and projects to make our streets safer,” FFSS member Patrick Wise said.
Simon provided a list of several ways for citizens to exercise caution, including wearing high visibility clothing, being careful while wearing headphones, wearing a helmet while cycling – which he said can reduce the risk of head injury by 85% – and not texting while driving –which he said is six times more likely to cause a traffic crash than an intoxicated driver.
Wilson said that the city is actively working to slow traffic by installing automated speed enforcement, designing roads more safely and working in partnership with ACPS and APD to increase safety.
But he also emphasized that a few concentrated areas in the city yield the most traffic-related issues. According to Wilson, approximately 70% of the deaths and serious injuries occur in 30% of the intersections in the city.
“We’re focusing our efforts on those core areas; we know that if we can make those intersections [and] corridors safer, we can save lives,” Wilson said. “ … The reality is we have a council that’s very supportive, we have a staff that’s very supportive, we have a police department, we have schools that are very supportive, but this involves trade offs. … We have to educate the community, we have to build public support for these initiatives. We can’t just force them on a community; we need everyone to understand the data, the facts are behind these policies, and they’re going to save lives.”
Currently, the city has implemented its Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2028. The concept, according to the city’s website, is a “multidisciplinary, multi-national traffic safety concept that aims to achieve a transportation system with no deaths and serious injuries” in order to “save lives on Alexandria’s streets.”
As part of this initiative, the city approved a plan to deploy five speed cameras in various school zones that will automatically record speed limit violations and allow officers to issue citations of up to $100.
Last month, the city also approved several speed limit reductions. The speed limit will be lowered from 35 to 25 MPH on the entire length of North Beauregard Street and school zone speed limits will be reduced from 25 to 15 MPH. On West Braddock Road, from North Beauregard Street to Quaker Lane, the posted speed limit will be reduced from 35 to 25 MPH and school zone speed limits will be reduced from 25 to 15 MPH. On North Howard Street, from Lynn House Driveway to Braddock Road, the school zone speed limit will be reduced from 25 to 15 MPH. On Seminary Road, from Kenmore Avenue to North Pickett Street, the school zone speed limit will be reduced from 25 to 15 MPH. And on King Street, from Radford Street to Quincy Street, there will be a new 15 MPH school zone speed limit.
According to the city, more than 500 crashes have occurred on these corridors since 2015, including more than 20 fatal or severe crashes. More than 250 people have been injured in crashes during this period.
Wise told the Times that the organization supports the city’s current efforts, but that more can and should be done. Specifically, Wise encouraged the city to support FFSS’ Safe Routes to Schools program, which educates students about traffic safety and was drastically scaled back recently.
He also asked that T&ES better support the near-miss survey, which can be useful in gathering information on incidents that don’t spawn police reports but are still dangerous. The survey is open to the public, and residents are encouraged to report all near-miss incidents.
“I think it’s great what the city is doing, and they’ve really made it a priority … but I think there’s always more that can be done. Setting out a roadmap for the future is great but we have to actively make those decisions,” Wise said. “ … It’s about education; it’s about bringing people on board; it’s also about making sure that when the decisions come up, the staff have the data that they need to make those decisions – that’s where the near-miss survey comes in – but also the public supports those decisions and there’s not a backlash over a change.”
The event concluded with an unveiling of the ghost scooter and its temporary placement at the corner of Sanger and Beauregard. Kay-Wyatt and an FFSS representative tied the scooter to the post and placed a bouquet of white flowers on top.
Doyle, who is a crash survivor himself after being struck in Old Town six years ago, hopes the event, placement of the ghost scooter and overall advocacy of FFSS will encourage drivers and pedestrians to stay vigilant.
“[It’s] to raise awareness of the danger to vulnerable road users, primarily the pedestrians, but also the cyclists and the scooter riders. And raising awareness so that drivers can, when they’re turning or going down a road, they’re going just the speed limit, not 20 miles over the speed limit,” Doyle said. “Speed kills, speed maims … so if they just go the speed limit, whatever that posted speed limit is, that helps.”