Can Richmond Save Pedestrians by Targeting Dangerous Intersections?

Can Richmond Save Pedestrians by Targeting Dangerous Intersections?Pedestrians in Richmond have the opportunity to get exercise, save money on gas and car repairs. However, walking can also mean risking their lives.

In 2022, Richmond had the highest-ever number of pedestrians hit by cars over the past 14 years. According to the city’s VisionZero dashboard, between January and May of 2023, four people walking in Richmond were killed and 82 others were injured. Officials say speed is a major factor in accidents involving cars and pedestrians, but other problematic behaviors such as drivers talking on their cell phones, driving while impaired, and inattention to pedestrians also play a role.

A $9 million grant from the Virginia Highway Safety Improvement Program aims to reduce car/pedestrian accidents and help drivers understand that the state’s roads are a shared space for trucks, passenger cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. The project concentrates on 500 intersections throughout Richmond, where workers will add various warning signs, high visibility crosswalks, traffic signal backplates, and more to increase pedestrian safety. In early May, work started near Virginia Commonwealth University and other Richmond streets to install speed tables after three students were hit by cars and two died from their injuries.

Why intersections are dangerous for pedestrians

Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists are typically at a higher risk of accidents and injuries while navigating an intersection. Crossing at an intersection requires a greater degree of concentration because the parties must be able to process several things at the same time, such as:

  • Which party has the right of way
  • How fast oncoming traffic is approaching
  • Whether pedestrians are present and preparing to cross
  • Cyclists traveling in bike lanes or along the side of the road
  • Vehicles attempting left-hand turns

Because of all these moving parts, civil designers and engineers must take a great deal into consideration as they design safe intersections, particularly when factoring in human error.

According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), over half of all accidents involving fatalities and injuries occur at or near intersections. FHWA researchers examined the ways drivers interact at intersections in order to determine necessary changes to increase intersection safety, and determined that driving involves three main tasks:

  • Control. Operating the motor vehicle
  • Guidance: Interacting with the drivers of other vehicles on the road
  • Navigation: Choosing the route taken to reach the desired destination

All of these tasks require the ability to process a range of information. However, when a driver gets overwhelmed with too much information, they are more likely to make a mistake that might lead to a serious accident. Intersections are especially dangerous because of the great amount of information the driver must process: traffic lights, stop signs, multiple lanes, opposing traffic, and the presence of pedestrians.

Drivers are more likely to successfully navigate an intersection when their expectations are met. However, when something unexpected occurs – an unexpected obstruction, nonfunctional traffic light, unfamiliar lane assignment, or a sign that cannot be seen – there is a higher risk for accidents. When trying to quickly process new information, drivers sometimes forgo their control of other tasks, increasing the chance for error. Consequently, street design consistency must be a top priority for engineers attempting to overcome human error.

Liability for pedestrian accidents at intersections in Virginia

Suppose you’re walking around Richmond taking in some of the historical sites. You approach a crosswalk, look both ways, and you see cars stopped at three intersections and none present in the fourth. The pedestrian light indicates that you can safely cross and you begin to walk across the street, but a car strikes you in the intersection.

As a pedestrian, you took the proper precautions – checking for traffic and ensuring that you had favorable lights. However, you did not expect a car to approach the intersection and hit you. In this case, the driver who struck you is liable for your injuries because, under Virginia law, pedestrians have the right of way and drivers who fail to yield to them are in violation and could face substantial fines.

Richmond is a city with busy streets, a thriving bike culture, and large numbers of people walking to their destinations. Consequently, there are bound to be issues between cars and pedestrians. Unfortunately, when the two collide, pedestrians are frequently on the losing end. If you were injured in an accident, a pedestrian accident lawyer can help you obtain compensation for your injuries along with other losses like lost wages and property damage.

How can we keep Virginia’s pedestrians safe?

According to the FHWA, certain processes, design techniques, and safety countermeasures can be effective at increasing roadway safety. Two approaches specifically address pedestrian safety: 1) medians and pedestrian refuge areas in urban and suburban settings, and 2) walkways.

Research indicates that medians and walkways can significantly reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries significantly, and when included in street designs, provide safe right-of-way access for all road users. Median crossing islands, sidewalks and walkways are design elements that, when included on streets, provide a more safe and comfortable walking environment.

Medians also provide space for roadway lighting, which research has shown helps to dramatically reduce nighttime pedestrian fatalities at crossings. Experts encourage agencies to utilize raised medians in curbed portions of multilane roadways, particularly in areas where there are substantial numbers of pedestrians, high volumes of traffic (more than 12,000 vehicles per day), and intermediate or high travel speeds.

Experts say improved infrastructure saves lives. Last summer the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to appropriate $672.4 million through fiscal year 2028 to hasten road safety improvements throughout Virginia. In January, the CTB also allocated $24.47 million to repair Route 28 in Prince William County.

At Phelan Petty, our pedestrian accident attorneys use cutting-edge investigation tactics to help build strong cases and obtain maximum compensation for injured pedestrians. If you or a loved one have been the victim of a pedestrian accident in Richmond, get in touch with us today. Call or fill out our contact form to set up your free, no obligation initial consultation today. Our office is conveniently located near I-64 and Route 250 in Richmond. We serve clients throughout Virginia.