Police focus on crosswalks for pedestrian safety initiative

During peak hours on Virginia Commonwealth University’s downtown campuses, thousands of pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists pass through crosswalks and crowded intersections. Following community feedback citing unsafe travel habits in these areas, the VCU Police Department has launched a pedestrian safety campaign to try to change how people approach crosswalks.

Through Nov. 17, VCU Police officers are engaging in outreach, education and enforcement efforts on the Monroe Park and MCV Campuses. Each day, multiple officers will patrol high-volume locations where pedestrians, drivers and cyclists converge.

The problems fall into two main categories: not paying attention and not following traffic signals.

“When it comes to this issue, it’s not any one group of people who have unsafe habits – it’s a lot of people,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti. “People walking, skateboarding, cycling, driving – the problems fall into two main categories: not paying attention and not following traffic signals.”

For example, some pedestrians step into crosswalks when vehicles have the green light. Many students and staff wear headphones or look at cell phones while crossing streets; others wait in the roadway for the walk signal, rather than waiting from the safety of the sidewalk.

Police acknowledge that some habits may result from sidewalks and streets being impeded by construction zones, but officers want people to plan routes accordingly.

“If you know you should cross the street one block up, we’d rather you take the extra minute or two for that, rather than risk getting injured,” Venuti said.

Drivers aren’t always giving pedestrians the right-of-way in crosswalks and some are speeding through high-volume areas. Distracted driving is also a concern for police. Cyclists are another concern, especially when they travel against the flow of traffic, run red lights and stop signs, and fail to yield to pedestrians on sidewalks.  

“A pedestrian or cyclist could technically be at fault for an accident, but when someone is hit by a vehicle, critical injury or death is a very real possibility,” Venuti said.

On a recent morning on the Monroe Park Campus, VCU Police Crime Prevention Officer Jonathan Wade observed 792 distracted pedestrians near the 900 block of West Main Street. According to his observations, 89 were texting, 234 were using headphones and 469 – that’s more than 59 percent – walked into the intersection when vehicles had the green light.

Police have identified 10 intersections to focus their enforcement and educational efforts. Problem intersections on the Monroe Park Campus include:

  • 900 block of West Main Street (Main and Linden streets)
  • Floyd Avenue and North Linden Street
  • Shafer and West Franklin Streets
  • Shafer and West Grace streets
  • West Franklin and North Laurel Streets

On the MCV Campus, the following intersections are of concern to police:

  • 11th and Clay streets
  • 11th and Leigh Streets
  • 11th and Marshall streets
  • 12th and East Broad streets
  • 12th and Marshall streets

In the 2016-2017 academic year, VCU Police handled 11 reportable accidents with injuries; this academic year, police have already handled eight accidents with injuries. More of the accidents in those time frames have involved vehicles hitting bikes rather than vehicles colliding with people on foot.

Police are also reaching out to parking subscribers, students living in residence halls, and social media followers. Messaging may have humor mixed in to get the community’s attention, but ultimately the goal is to get people thinking about safety.

“This outreach is geared to getting conversations started, raising awareness about the problems and gathering feedback from the community,” Venuti said. “We’ve got more than 50,000 people here and even reaching a few thousands helps us start to turn the tide.”