Nine Deadly Months for Pedestrians

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fairfax County's roads remain hostile territory for pedestrians.

With more than three months left in 2006, the county has surpassed last year's total of 10 people killed by automobiles, with 12 deaths. Fairfax's minority population continues to be disproportionately affected.

The most recent fatality came early Aug. 19, when Fidel Angel Hernandez, 25, was struck as he tried to cross the 8100 block of Richmond Highway in the Hybla Valley area. The driver of a 2005 Honda van, headed north, was not charged. Hernandez died at the scene. Two days earlier, Tirzo Carreto-Santos, 21, died while crossing Little River Turnpike in the Lincolnia area. He also was struck by a van.

About 2,700 people are injured by automobiles in the Washington area each year, and an average of 80 die, according to a report sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). In Fairfax County alone, 62 pedestrians have been killed since 2002. Nearly 20 percent of those injured required hospital stays of more than 24 hours, costing $17,000 to $30,000 per patient, according to COG.

The 12 deaths in Fairfax are fairly representative of the larger problem, police said. In 11 of the 12 cases, the pedestrian was crossing against the light or outside the crosswalk. In three instances, including that of Hernandez, the pedestrians were under the influence of alcohol, police said.

Immigrants and the elderly are also disproportionately represented. The victims include women ages 66, 76 and 85, in addition to a 66-year-old man.

Richmond Highway and Little River Turnpike are like other primary roads in Fairfax County, designed to move large amounts of traffic with little attention to the needs of pedestrians. They have long expanses between traffic signals, tempting pedestrians to cross at the most convenient spot.

"People are going to take the shortest route and cross where they can cross," said Lt. Dan Townsend of the Fairfax police traffic division.

Those roads also serve neighborhoods with heavy concentrations of low-income and immigrant residents. That means language can be a barrier to making safe crossing decisions, as can culture. Some newcomers are not prepared for the speed of traffic in the Washington suburbs, where limits of 45 mph are common, authorities say.

A report earlier this year by the county's Pedestrian Task Force said $60 million would be needed over 10 years for improved bus stop access and new trails and sidewalks. So far, the county has set aside $11 million for pedestrian safety in its four-year transportation plan.

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