Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Crosswalk Bill" Fails in House

Identical Senate Bill Crossed Over to House Last Night

A bill intended to make pedestrians in crosswalks safer, and to clarify the roles of pedestrians and drivers at crosswalks, failed in the Virginia House of Delegates Monday by one vote, 48 to 47.

Six House Republicans, four from northern Virginia, joined 42 Democrats in voting for the bill, while four Delegates, three of them Democrats, did not vote.

Late Friday, an identical bill passed the Democrat-controlled state Senate, with two Republicans joining the Democrats. No Democrats in the Republican-controlled House or the Senate voted against the bills.

Del. Robert Mathieson (D-21st, Virginia Beach), a patron of the bill, was one of the delegates not voting. His mother died recently and he was dealing with those affairs, an aid to him said. No word at press time as to where the others were.

Current law requires drivers to “yield” to pedestrians in crosswalks on roads where the speed limit is under 35 mph. The bill, dubbed the "crosswalk bill" by one Republican staffer, was an attempt to change "yield" to “stop” and to clarify that pedestrians may not enter a crosswalk when a car is approaching if that car would not have time enough to stop.


“‘Yield’ means different things to different people, including ‘swerve,’ ‘stop,’ ‘slow down,’ or ‘just miss’,” said Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49th, Alexandria) from the House floor, Monday. He is the chief sponsor of the bill in the house. “This legislation is supported by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, local law enforcement agencies,…and the Virginia PTA.”

Del. Salvatore Iaquinto (R-84th, Virginia Beach) voted against the measure. He is an attorney and said he has defended pedestrians many times.

“The case law is pretty clear that the pedestrians have a right of way in a crosswalk,” he said in an interview Tuesday, adding that people know what "yield" means. The term is not the problem, there are some who will ignore the current law.
“If you’re in a crosswalk, and you get hit by a car, the person who hit you is at fault," he said.

But without that accident, police find it hard to get a conviction at all, said Pat Carroll, Arlington County's legislative liaison. "It’s very important to our police department" that this law pass, she said in a voice mail.

“In Fairfax [County] at least, and this may be true in Arlington as well, the police say they have trouble getting convictions unless somebody actually hits a pedestrian," she said.

Although the language changing “yield” to “stop” is intended to clarify what drivers are supposed to do, Del. Iaquinto said he thought the bill would confuse some people. Pedestrians must obey lighted pedestrian traffic signals under the law, but what if someone does not? Del. Iaquinto wondered. Is the driver required to stop for that person? And what happens when there are no pedestrian signal lights at an intersection and a pedestrian enters the crosswalk against traffic, who is at fault then? He also said that he feared rear-ender accidents with drivers slamming on brakes to avoid pedestrians.


“I’ve got to be honest with you, I was fifty-fifty” on whether or not to vote yes to the bill, Del. Iaquinto said, but it just was not clear enough language. “I don’t disagree with his [Del. Ebbin’s] motives…[but] I think we’d be back here next year trying to fix [the bill].”

Pedestrian issues took a front seat in Buckingham last summer as county staff met with residents of the neighborhood regarding pedestrian safety, especially at the intersection of N. Glebe and N. Carlin Springs roads. Changes which continue there are part of the North Glebe Road Pedestrian Improvements Project. The project covers that intersection as well as two others.

This intersection of N. Glebe and N. Carlin Springs roads will be redeveloped as part of a pedestrian improvement project. (Click to enlarge the image.)

As well, the intersection of N. Glebe at N. Pershing Drive is part of a different project. One aim of the renovation is to improve pedestrian safety.

N. Thomas Street at various intersections of the neighborhood—most significantly at N. Henderson Road—is a subject of county capital improvements aimed at pedestrian safety. [More on this next week. --ST]

Suzi Smith, a resident of The Carlin apartment on N. Carlin Springs Road, took an active roll in meetings with county staff last summer.

“It makes a huge difference whether it’s stop or yield,” she said in an interview yesterday. She said she’s been in intersections where she could touch the car as it was driving by.

She said that the police could issue more traffic tickets, which might only directly affect a few people, but word would get around. As well, people who received tickets would begin to slow down, and then everyone would have to slow down behind them.

Representtatives from K.W. Barrett Elementary's PTA joined with statewide PTAs for a day with Legislators during the first week of February. Barrett parent Nina Austin had taken the pedestrian issue as a prime concern given that many Arlington parents have been telling the school board that they want their children to walk to school. She has been encouraging parents to contact legislators.

"We can't just make this a northern Virginia issue," she said in an interview on Feb. 5.

That might hit at the crux of the problem. Some form of this bill has come up perennially for at least three years, and county staff and political leaders have said in the past that they just cannot convince downstate Republicans that there is a need for a change in the law.

“I’m from Virginia Beach,” Del. Iaquinto said. “Yeah, I think you’re right. The downstate legislators, they just don’t see these problems" of heavy pedestrian traffic mixing with vehicle traffic. Still it was not enough to convince him to change his vote.

The measure is not dead, however, as the bill that made it through the Senate (it is identical to the House bill), crossed over to the House, where it heads back to the Trasportation Committee, perhaps as early as Thursday.

“This is a priority for Arlington," Ms. Carroll said. She added in an email: "Regardless, we remain committed to pedestrian safety and if the bill does not pass, will continue to work on it."

Related stories, opinions and sites…
  • Assembly Access: Del. Ebbin's Speech ("Assembly Access" is a Democrat-leaning video blog, but it is where Del. Ebbin's staff told me to look for his testimony, so I am sharing it with you. --ST)
  • House Bill 1270
  • House Vote in Transportation Committee
  • Senate Bill 644
  • Senate Vote in Transportation Committee
    Related News stories in the HeraldTrib…
  • From Last Friday:Pedestrian Bill Walks onto House and Senate Floors
  • A Decade for New Lights and Curb Cuts
  • Glebe/Carlin Springs: No Changes to Pedestrian Crossing Times
  • SOS at Glebe and Carlin Springs
  • Do 40 Tickets Do Good?
  • Pedestrians Meeting About Glebe/Carlin Springs
  • Whipple on Pedestrians
    Related Opinions in the HeraldTrib…
  • County: Give Bham Clear Crosswalks
  • Letter: More than Crosswalks, Give Bham Flashing Lights
  • This is How Crosswalks Are Supposed to Work, Virginia!

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