Vigilance, awareness essential for pedestrian safety

Orange pedestrian Ray Edwards crosses Main Street near the Orange Post Office. Signs posted both in the crosswalk and at the roadside remind motorists of the crosswalk’s presence. 

Ray Edwards Jr. has been walking around Orange for nearly 17 years. A familiar sight on Main Street, the retired handyman doesn’t own a car. There was a time when he thought little of walking 4 or 5 miles to a job, and he still gets plenty of exercise doing errands around town.

With all his experience as a pedestrian, Edwards knows better than to take his safety for granted. He said he’s had “a lot of close calls” when cars have nearly hit him.

Just minutes before sharing his thoughts, he said he narrowly avoided an accident. The pedestrian signal lit up at the intersection of Main Street and Madison Road. Edwards said he was just entering the crosswalk when a driver seized that moment to turn right on red, and he had to step back.

In his view, many drivers “don’t care about the pedestrian crossing signals at all.”

He is just as wary of the other crosswalks on Main Street. At the one in front of the Orange post office, he has frequently observed cars and trucks appearing to go well above the posted speed limit of 25 mph.

Even with a warning sign that Orange Police Chief Jim Fenwick recently planted in the middle of that crosswalk, Edwards still doesn’t feel safe. Sometimes he crosses closer to the intersection with Caroline Street.

“I have a second or two more to get out of the way of a vehicle. It’s jaywalking, but at least I’m alive to talk about it,” he said with a faint smile.

Pedestrian safety has come to the fore recently after two men died in separate accidents on Route 3 in Orange County. On the evening of Jan. 26, at the intersection with Route 20, Brett C. Stannard, 42, of Spotsylvania County was struck and killed.

Less than a week later, on the night of Feb. 1, Christopher A. Randall, 44, of Lignum died after a vehicle struck him on the road just east of Route 708. According to press releases issued by the Virginia State Police (VSP), the victims in both accidents were dressed in black. The police further reported that Randall “ran into the travel lane.”

Although both accidents are under investigation, VSP Sgt. Brent Coffey pointed out the obvious: it is dangerous to walk into a busy road that has no crosswalk, and doing so at night in a dark area not meant for pedestrians, while wearing dark clothes, is a recipe for disaster.

There are no marked crosswalks on Route 3 in Orange County, according to Will Merritt, communications coordinator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.

Without commenting specifically on the two accidents under investigation, Coffey said it appeared the drivers “didn’t have much of a chance” to avoid the collisions.

While these two cases seem to be anomalies, they do highlight the danger to pedestrians and drivers alike when one or both parties are not careful.

“If you’re out walking at night, make sure you’re wearing high-visibility clothing,” Coffey said. “You have to be mindful of traffic. Also, drivers need to be mindful of pedestrians as well. Just use caution, I would say.”

Drivers on Route 3 are not expecting to see pedestrians entering the road, but motorists in town see them all the time.

In Gordonsville, police chief Clay Corbin said the traffic circle poses special hazards, since a lot of local residents walk to the fast-food restaurants and gas stations that surround it.

“There are so many different inlets coming into it,” he said of the circle, which has no marked crosswalks. As a result, drivers need to “be aware of what’s going on at the sides of the roads as well as on the roadway itself.”

Corbin has stopped drivers who have ignored pedestrians trying to enter a crosswalk. With an incredulous look on his face, he said there have been times when he has asked them, “‘Weren’t you trained when you were in driver’s ed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk?’ Sometimes you get the answer, ‘I don’t remember that.’”

Corbin and his officers always wear reflective vests when they direct traffic. Even with this safety requirement in place, he said, “I’ve stood in the middle of the road and had cars come right up to me.”

In his experience, inattentive drivers are currently more of a problem in Gordonsville than drunk drivers. When he’s on duty directing traffic, he said, “If the person we’re trying to stop is not stopping, it could cause a horrific accident.”

Both Corbin and Coffey commented on the psychological trauma surrounding accidents that involve people on foot.

Corbin said he was driving north on Route 15 past Inwood Restaurant on a recent rainy night. He glimpsed a man in dark clothes walking on the white line at the road’s edge.

“I did not see him until I was within 20 feet,” he recalled. “I was terrified when I saw him.” There was traffic on Corbin’s left so he had little room to maneuver if the man had veered into the road.

Coffey remarked that for anyone working a traffic accident involving someone on foot, “It’s a little more emotional right off the top.” He said officers go to such accidents anticipating the worst, with this thought in mind: “That’s a person that got struck.”

Like Coffey, Corbin said people on foot must obey the law and take their own precautions. Those who step into the street from between parked cars are putting themselves in potential danger because the parked vehicles may obstruct the drivers’ line of vision.

He advises pedestrians to “walk the extra 25 feet to a crosswalk instead of darting out in the middle of a block.”

Beyond that, he said walkers should use common sense before entering a crosswalk, even though they have the right of way once they set foot there.

He said he has ticketed drivers going more than 50 mph on Main Street, where the speed limit is 25 mph. If an approaching vehicle appears to be speeding or is just too close, he advises pedestrians to stay on the sidewalk.

Gordonsville is a town full of walkers, and the police chief said he and his officers recognize most everybody. They see a number of regular walkers after dark, and, in keeping with Coffey’s advice, he stressed that anyone walking when visibility is poor should wear reflective clothing and carry a light.

“The combination of both is your best bet when it comes to being seen,” Corbin said. “Take it on yourself to make sure you’re protecting yourself.”

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