VISION ZERO is the latest effort by the city to reduce death and injury on our streets. It has resulted in a 10-year plan contained in two draft documents, the “Vision Zero Action Plan” and the “Alexandria Police Department Traffic Safety Plan.” Public comment is being solicited through the city’s website, and will remain open only until Nov. 26.
Unfortunately, the “Vision Zero Action Plan” is long on pledge-taking, messaging, data gathering, educating, evaluating, etc., and rather short on actual, do-it-right-now, specific action(s). Conversely, the “APD
Traffic Safety Plan,” in all fairness, probably promises more than the APD is actually resourced to deliver. Most surprising and disappointing, is that neither plan addresses the single most significant and largest scale threat faced daily by our pedestrians and cyclists — blocked crosswalks and intersections.
During every “rush hour”, Monday-Friday, on Washington Street in the morning; and on both Washington Street and Henry Street in the afternoon, there is gridlock.
While the traffic is to be expected, what is absolutely unacceptable is that bad drivers create an extremely hazardous condition for pedestrians and cyclists by blocking the crosswalks, thereby forcing them out into the crossing vehicle traffic lanes where they dangerously mingle with cars. Of most serious concern is the fact that those affected include our schoolchildren, who have to cross these intersections to go and come from school during those same rush hours.
The bad drivers are so egregious, they not only illegally block the crosswalks, they illegally block the intersections themselves. This only worsens the dangers for pedestrians and cyclists. It also creates needless gridlock, as drivers on cross streets can’t proceed when they get the green light. This in turn creates a negative quality of life issue for residents, as for several hours during every morning and afternoon rush hour, they must endure the frequent blaring of car horns from drivers who are understandably showing their displeasure toward the imbeciles who are illegally blocking their passage.
All of this is needlessly unsafe and can be made better. Neighboring communities have already dealt with this, as have large cities such as New York. Many approaches are possible, some at little or no cost to the city, and in fact, could potentially generate revenue.
At the barest minimum, install highly visible signage (e.g., “Do Not Block Crosswalks — Do Not Block Intersection”) at intersections throughout the affected corridors. While this would not likely ameliorate the problem completely, it would certainly have at least some measurable impact. As this represents no change in laws, ordinances, traffic patterns, enforcement, penalties, etc., this is readily executable with no further study.
A more serious approach would be to paint cross hatch striping in the interior square formed by the four crosswalks at each intersection. That square, including the crosswalks themselves, becomes “The Box.” Install signage at each intersection reading, “Block The Box — $250 Fine” (or whatever amount the city deems appropriate to stop the illegal behavior).
With respect to enforcement, one potential option is cameras, which if executed properly, would be cost neutral to the city For example, D.C. uses cameras that detect cars that are stopped at red lights forward of stop lines (and are therefore blocking crosswalks and/or intersections). The resulting fines pay for the system.
Vision Zero’s silence on this issue is simply indefensible. Financial resources are no excuse for inaction. Readily executable actions exist and are virtually cost neutral — some may actually generate revenue.
Please take the time to provide specific and constructive feedback to the city. Demand recognition of this issue in both plans, as well as specific actions to address it. Otherwise, at the end of Vision Zero’s 10-year course, our pedestrians, cyclists, and school children will almost certainly still be in the traffic lanes, zig-zagging around cars, as they pick their way through these intersections.