The traffic safety advocacy group Fairfax Families for Safe Streets (Fairfax FSS) says the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is primarily to blame for Fairfax County’s high pedestrian fatality count last year.
The Safe Streets Report compiled by Fairfax FSS examines the crashes that resulted in 32 pedestrian fatalities and 53 serious injuries in 2022. Like the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) earlier report, Fairfax FFS found that the county saw a dramatic increase in fatalities and serious injuries last year from any other year going back to 2010 — the first year where data is available.
The median count for pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County was 13, but there were over twice as many in 2022.
Fairfax FSS lays the blame at underfunding for pedestrian-focused projects in its report:
Years of underfunding of critical projects and lack of sufficient attention to pedestrian safety in new projects and development has led to increasing systemic risk for pedestrian safety. Safety is more important than speed. Particular attention is needed to provide safety in identified high risk corridors. While we applaud increased commitment for future funding, the proposed levels are insufficient to reduce today’s risk.
Most of that frustration was directed at VDOT, which controls the majority of the county’s roadways.
According to the report:
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), as the primary agency with authority for road infrastructure design and maintenance throughout Fairfax County, bears significant responsibility for the safety of pedestrians. The high number and increasing trend of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries indicates that VDOT has not sufficiently prioritized pedestrian safety, lacks an understanding of the current risks to pedestrians, and/or has operationally failed a basic safety responsibility. Fairfax FSS requests VDOT leadership evaluate its culture, organizational structure, and operations to ensure that pedestrian safety is appropriately elevated and integrated throughout VDOT.
The report also said Virginia’s criminal code is too lenient on drivers who crash into and kill pedestrians. Of the 32 pedestrian fatalities in 2022, only five crashes saw the drivers charged with a felony. One case was finalized, with the driver pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Four others remain pending.
Four drivers were charged with misdemeanors. One was reduced to an infraction, one was found not guilty, and another was abandoned without prosecution. The last case remains pending. One driver was charged with an infraction.
“The report also highlights the lack of consequences in Virginia’s criminal code when drivers who crash into and kill pedestrians (many of whom had the legal right of way in a crosswalk) receive de minimis financial fines, no points and rarely jail time of any sort,” the release said.
Fairfax FSS said local residents should expect more from their local and state elected officials when it comes to pedestrian safety.
“Each pedestrian fatality and serious injury is preventable,” the release said. “Our local and state elected leaders along with transportation officials need to demonstrate a greater level of commitment and urgency in implementing comprehensive and effective solutions. Making greater investment today will save lives tomorrow.”
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Fairfax County will introduce speed cameras to school and construction zones early next year.
At a meeting last night (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved amending the county code to establish a pilot program that will install 10 automated photo speed cameras in school and construction zones around the county.
The program is intended to “increase safety for some of our most vulnerable road users, that’s school children and roadway construction workers,” Fairfax County Police Department Traffic Division Commander Alan Hanson told the board.
The cameras will “hopefully” be installed in nine school zones and one construction zone by Feb. 1, staying in place for six months, Hanson said. Enforcement will begin when drivers go 10 miles over the speed limit with fines escalating to a maximum of $100.
Signage identifying speed camera locations will be placed within 1,000 feet of each camera, per state code, with the locations also being posted on the county’s website.
“We’re not trying to trap people,” Hanson said in the county press release.
The 10 locations for the cameras have been chosen, but county officials plan to do a final walkthrough to confirm the placements before they’re publicized, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s office says.
The schools were chosen by the FCPD based on input from Fairfax County Public Schools about where community members have reported issues and data collected by traffic safety officers. For the work zone camera, the department is still working with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to choose between two possible locations , but it will likely be a highway with a long-term construction project.
“There will be a grace period as everyone gets accustomed to the cameras and begins modifying their speeds,” a spokesperson for McKay’s office told FFXnow.
Each camera will cost about $3,000 per month, according to the press release. Adding in associated signage and other equipment, the total cost for the pilot program is around $180,000.
Speeding has become a huge concern, particularly around schools after a teen allegedly driving 81 mph struck and killed two Oakton High School students on Blake Lane in June. A third student was seriously injured. Residents had been seeking safety improvements, including speed cameras, in that area for years.
A pilot work group found that almost 95% of drivers in the school zone at Springfield’s Irving Middle School were driving 10 mph or more above the speed limit during a morning sampling period done last year.
“In the five school zones surveyed, hundreds and sometimes thousands of drivers exceeded the speed limit by more than 10 mph during the sample period,” the county said.
Around noon on June 12, a pedestrian trying to reach a pathway by Dogwood Pool on Green Range Drive in Reston was nearly hit by a vehicle, because the trail was blocked by parked cars.
Three days earlier, another driver failed to yield and sped through a left turn at the Westpark and Galleria Drive intersection in Tysons, almost colliding with a person who was using the crosswalk.
Those are two of more than 350 “near miss” traffic incidents that community members have reported to Northern Virginia Families for Safe Streets (NoVA FSS) since the advocacy group launched a survey on June 17 to collect data on dangerous roadways across the region.
Developed with the help of Virginia Tech graduate students, the Near Miss Survey allows walkers, bicyclists, drivers, and other road users to report instances where they came close to getting into a crash or accident but were fortunate enough to avoid it.
The resulting map highlights specific incidents as well as hotspots that are especially accident-prone, with the goal of helping local transportation and public safety officials see what areas need their attention and how they can improve policies and infrastructure to make streets safer.
“It gives people an opportunity to report on areas that might be dangerous,” Phil Kemelor, the Mason District board member for Fairfax Families for Safe Streets, said. “Just because it doesn’t result in a specific accident like with someone getting hit or killed, it’s still something people should know about.”
While the survey is still new, some trends have already emerged. Unsurprisingly, there tend to be more incidents at times with more traffic, such as the afternoon rush hour, and failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks is the most frequently reported issue.
Kemelor notes that the reported incidents haven’t been weather-related, since they’ve all occurred during clear conditions, and they are rarely one-time issues.
“Those reporting the incidents cite multiple occurrences at the locations mentioned,” he said.
The Near Miss Survey project grew out of conversations between NoVA FSS founder Mike Doyle and Tom Sanchez, who teaches urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech.
As a capstone requirement for the master’s program, graduate students take a year-long studio class where they work on a project with a client from the community.
For the 10 students who took the class during the 2020-2021 academic year, that client was Families for Safe Streets, which began in the City of Alexandria in 2017 and has since added Arlington and Fairfax chapters.
Sanchez says the idea of collecting near-miss data appealed to the class, because there was no existing source for that kind of information, even though a split second could be the only difference between a close call and a tragic collision. Read More