RICHMOND – Over the past few weeks, Richmond residents have noticed unusual new signs popping up in the middle of intersections all over the city. The signs, which warn motorists that they must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, are part of Richmond’s “Vision Zero” plan. Richmond’s government designed the plan to make streets safer for alternative modes of transportation like bikers and pedestrians.
But for some, the signs have ironically become a source of traffic confusion. The short posts can be difficult to read and include a graphic of a stop sign, causing some motorists to come to a complete stop at intersections even when there are no pedestrians. They’re also low to the ground, and therefore hard to see coming when cars change lanes in traffic.
Dozens of Reddit users on r/rva, a subreddit dedicated to the city of Richmond, also note that another problem is the position of the signs. Since they’re in the middle of the road, cars frequently ran them over, flattening the plastic posts and scattering the signs.
One sign in particular, at a crosswalk on Brookland Park Boulevard in Northside, captivated the subreddit. According to users there, who were tracking the sign’s status over the course of three weeks, the sign lasted barely two days before cars flattened it for the first time.
Over the course of those three weeks, users began rooting for the sign. They did this by putting in public works requests to have it replaced, adorning it with balloons, and adding decorations to those that cars had already mangled.
Others on the site spent their time statistically analyzing how often cars hit a single sign over one 16-hour period.
A Reddit community member reported that 229 pedestrians used that particular crosswalk during that time. But, the user also reported 22 collisions between cars and the sign over those 16 hours.
That might be because other users on the site claim some Richmonders are deliberately hitting these safety signs. Whether that’s due to the subreddit’s popularity or not remains unclear.
A Transportation Advocate Weighs In On Signs
According to reporting by NBC12, the city has installed a total of 55 signs throughout its borders. But the signs are just one aspect of the city’s Vision Zero plan for roadway safety.
According to a press release from the Department of Public Works, the city of Richmond is executing the plan, which includes these pedestrian signs, plus new stop signs, pedestrian beacons, crosswalks, and new corner-clearance markings, using $1.54 million in funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration. Richmond is spending that money responsibly, according to transportation advocates.
“I think generally, the signs make drivers more aware of people crossing the street,” said Doug Allen, a local advocate for alternative transportation.
But Allen also notes that they were just “one piece of many” changes needed to make streets safe for pedestrians in Richmond.
Trying to Address A Real Problem in Richmond
According to data from the city, there are an average of 2,700 injuries and 13 deaths on Richmond streets as a result of traffic each year.
Data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles shows that 827 deaths occurred on Virginia’s roadways in 2019. In addition to these fatalities, 2019 statistics show that 180 people are injured every day in the Commonwealth from traffic crashes.
In a Tweet celebrating the installation of the signs, Mayor Levar Stoney said, “A Richmonder should never die because a driver can’t wait a few seconds for someone to cross the street.”
This latest effort may have hit some trouble, there may even be a few bad signs for the project, but Allen says that he wants to see the city experiment with more new projects like this one:
“Basically allow more, cheaper, less permanent infrastructure where it could make a difference,” Allen said.
Jakob Cordes is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.