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Street Smart Takes Aim at Pedestrian Safety

The W&OD crossing at Belmont Ridge in Ashburn exemplifies potential dangers.

While the W&OD Trail’s crossing at Belmont Road on Nov. 14 served as a perfect spot for a regional coalition to announce its Street Smart program aimed at reducing pedestrian/bicycle accidents and fatalities, two recent pedestrian accidents in Loudoun served as painful reminders for the project’s need.

Earlier in the day, an adult male was struck along Route 28 — apparently not an accident — while about a week earlier a 48-year-old woman was hit while crossing Ashburn Farm Parkway.

The goal of the program is to focus on Engineering, Education and Enforcement to bring standards and awareness up, and accidents and deaths down.

“The real reason we’re here is to get the word out,” said Supervisor Ralph Buona, standing next to the Belmont Ridge/W&OD crossing, where bicyclists and trucks were regularly crossing paths. “The trucks going by are indicative of what we’ve got going on over here.”

While the program focuses on pedestrian and bicycle safety everywhere, anyone putting odds on the next accident might well pick the intersection where Buona and representatives of the program met with media.

“We have a crosswalk in a 45 mph speed zone,” Buona said. “We’ve got a clearly dangerous situation.”

The intersection has been the subject of arguments between some bicyclists and some motorists who share a mutual disrespect for the other.

And while no pedestrian or bicycle fatalities have been reported at the intersection, it’s been the location of many fender benders.

To improve the crossing, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which owns the 45-mile W&OD, removed some parking immediately next to the trail and installed vegetation and shrubbery to keep cars out. In addition, stop signs along that were angled so some motorists obeyed them have been moved.

Jeff Dunckel, of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said most pedestrian accidents involving another vehicle at 45 mph end in death.

“We have the power to reduce the number of fatalities,” he said, reiterating the programs three E’s: Engineering, Education and Enforcement.

He also said most pedestrian accidents occur in November and December.

“Just exercise safety and caution,” said Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman.

By Virginia Code, motorists must stop when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk. However, motorists should also be alert in case a bicyclist or pedestrian does enter the crosswalk, which is why the zig-zag lines were painted a few years back.

Also by code, pedestrians and bicyclists are not supposed to enter a crosswalk if it would impede a motorist.

“You have to make sure when you enter a crosswalk on a roadway the coast is clear,” Chapman said, reiterating that motorists must also obey the laws.

“For those that don’t get the message, we have another solution,” he said, referring to enforcement. “We’d rather you exercise caution and safety.”

NVRPA’s Paul Gilbert cautioned pedestrians and bicyclists, both of which will likely not fare well in an accident with a car or truck.

“You have to stop at an intersection to be safe,” he said. “If you’re not willing to do that, you’re putting everyone at risk.”

Bicyclist Steve Friedman knows first hand.

“Everybody has to be responsible for themselves,” he said, adding that a bicyclist may do all the right things and still get hit. It happened to him. He’s a very experienced bicyclist who was struck by an SUV who was not paying close attention to the well-marked Friedman.

“He was in a rush, he was inattentive and he struck me,” Friedman said, urging drivers to be aware of pedestrians and bicyclists sharing the road.

Richard Albury November 23, 2012 at 03:36 PM
The bicycle riders (like most drivers here) need to stop blowing through stop signs. I'm tired of their disregard for traffic rules.
Joanne McAlpine November 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I have to agree with Richard. I am a cyclist and a driver. My heart drops every time the cyclist doesn't stop until they get to the very edge of the road. I think a driver has a hard time determining whether the biker has decided their going to make a run for it or not. I think this is where accidents are occurring. As a cyclist, I make sure I stop by the time I get to the stop sign then inch my way up. When I'm with my kids, my kids like to stop and get off the bike (as they and I were taught) several feet from the stop sign then walk across the street. I never see this in Loudoun.
Paul November 25, 2012 at 01:51 PM
How many more accidents do we have to have to justify a pedestrian overpass? That part of the road is poorly graded to start with, and there is a dangerous intersection, but the geniuses in Richmond decided that painting zig zag lines would fix the problem, and spent the money on improving roads in southern va instead. Just fix the intersection. It's broken.

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