At a crossroads

A pedestrian attempting to cross West Broad Street at Gaskins Road was struck by a car and seriously injured on Monday night. Immediately afterward, some in the community began calling for increased safety measures at the busy intersection, which serves some 36,000 vehicles a day.

But is fixing the problem of frequent accidents at a busy intersection as easy as that? And in this case, is there truly a discernible and recurrent problem that needs to be fixed at all?

The West Broad-Gaskins intersection has ranked among the county’s top-10 most accident-prone intersections for some time, but it has plenty of nearby company. In fact, half of that list typically is composed of every main intersection along a 2.5-mile stretch of West Broad Street between Gaskins Road and PumpRoad/Pouncey Tract Road.

This should come as no shock to anyone who has traveled the corridor, as most all of us have. It’s simply one of the busiest stretches of road in Henrico, serving the heart of the most visited portion of the county, which includes the Innsbrook Corporate Center, West Broad Village and a popular swath of Short Pump retail shops, among others.

Do they all need improved safety measures? Or is this simply a numbers game, through which the county’s busiest intersections naturally incur the most accidents annually?

West Broad Street is nine lanes wide at the Gaskins Road intersection, and vehicles obeying the 45 mph speed limit along that stretch of West Broad tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The intersection – and most others in that corridor and on the top-10 list overall – are primarily dangerous not because of blind spots or challenging conditions for drivers but rather because of the sheer volume of drivers on the road at any given time and the speed at which they are traveling.

Simply put, it’s an inherently dangerous corridor for pedestrians – and, statistically, far more dangerous for other drivers.

VDOT has promised to review the West Broad-Gaskins intersection again – as it did 13 months ago after two pedestrians were struck and injured there – to determine if a crosswalk, crosswalk signal or additional sidewalks could improve things. (The agency also is working on a pedestrian safety plan for 20 intersections along the West Broad corridor, a process that won’t come to fruition for a few more years and to which it has committed about $2 million.)

These are prudent ideas; there’s no question that any pedestrian would feel safer crossing an intersection with all three of those components in place. But while we don’t yet know whether those components alone would have prevented this week’s incident, they likely wouldn’t have prevented the one last year, which police determined was the fault of a driver not paying proper attention.

When things go wrong in the public domain, a common outcry is to cast blame somewhere. In this case, that cry is directed at government.

It would make things much easier if for every unfortunate occurrence, there were a clear and direct path to avoiding such an event again. But often, that’s simply not the case. Sometimes, unfortunate things happen for reasons we can’t predict or control through one or two direct government actions.

That appears to be the case here.

How else might we prevent such things from happening in the future? By using common sense.

As drivers, we should focus on the road, our surroundings and our speed – not on our cell phones.

As pedestrians, we should evaluate the risks of intersections, cross them only when it is legal and safe to do so and perhaps avoid those that are inherently dangerous altogether.

E-mail Citizen Publisher Tom Lappas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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June 2017
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