The urgency of a July 2 Front Royal Town Council work session discussion of pedestrian safety measures in high-traffic volume areas was underscored the following day by yet another vehicle-pedestrian accident – this one on the 800 block of John Marshall Highway (Route 55 East) where it enters town approaching the Commerce Avenue intersection traffic light.
Fortunately, unlike three such accidents in Front Royal within a recent one-year period, this accident was not fatal and did not result in serious injury. According to a Front Royal Police Press Release the victim was evaluated by emergency service responders at the scene and “was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital with minor abrasions and subsequently released.”
That victim was 21-year-old Arney Murray Jr. who reported to authorities he had just gotten off work at the nearby UPS distribution center and was attempting to cross John Marshall southbound when he was struck by a car he did not see until the last moment before he was struck.
According to FRPD, “The driver of the vehicle, Justin Matlock, 29, stated that he was traveling eastbound on John Marshall Highway. Matlock advised he was passing the 7-11 when a male ran across the traffic lane and was struck by his vehicle.” Investigators determined neither speed nor alcohol as factors in the accident.
Anyone with further information is asked to contact FRPD Officer Andrew Haywood at (540) 635-2111 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Marshall Highway on the town’s southeast side and North Shenandoah Avenue between the 14th Street traffic light and the new South Fork Bridge to the north have been ground zero for pedestrian-vehicle accidents. All three of the recent fatal accidents have occurred on one of those two entranceways into Front Royal.
On Monday, July 2, Town Engineer Robert Brown presented the mayor and town council with one proposed pedestrian safety measure – a pedestrian-activated crosswalk stoplight. The staff summary of the proposal noted that in the area of North Shenandoah Avenue targeted for installation of the crosswalk light, five pedestrian accidents and one fatality have occurred in the past three years.
Council also discussed making jaywalking an offense by town ordinance. According to the FRPD release the July 3 accident victim was not using a crosswalk when he was struck. By state law vehicles must yield to pedestrian within crosswalks.
Despite a town initiative driven by Councilman William Sealock to add to the number of painted crosswalks in town, the necessity of walking several blocks out of one’s way to reach a crosswalk has led to continued incidents of jaywalking in unmarked areas.
Town Attorney Doug Napier noted that jaywalking is a state code violation, adding however that not many people are aware of that. The staff rationale is that making jaywalking an offense by town code will increase citizen awareness.
“It’s an educational process,” Sealock observed. Making jaywalking a town violation would also give town police officers increased opportunity to issue warnings, alerting citizens not only of the danger they are putting themselves in, but also the potential of being cited and fined if they continue to do it.
Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt wondered if the jaywalking initiative would present an enforcement burden on the town police.
“It will be some work,” FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis replied without indicating any opposition to that work if it will improve public safety.
At the end of the jaywalking discussion that opened the July 2 work session, Mayor Hollis Tharpe instructed Town Manager Joe Waltz to move the jaywalking code violation initiative forward.
As for the pedestrian-activated traffic signal proposed for near 17th Street on North Shenandoah Avenue, Town Engineer Brown presented a power point illustrating the design and function. The proposed location is at a high-pedestrian crossing area between the Shenandoah and several other nearby motels and the Speedway Gas Station/convenience store.
The cost estimate for purchase and installation the overhanging lights, crosswalk with a raised median island halfway across the road in the turning lane is $65,000.
Sealock observed that this type of crosswalk with a traffic signal pedestrians can stop traffic with was just the kind of recommendation he and the town manager received at a recent transportation safety conference they attended – “We’re all in agreement this is the way to go,” Sealock said.
However, one councilman expressed some concern at this solution. Chris Morrison wondered if the additional traffic signal within a block and a half of the south end of the South Fork Bridge could create rush hour or tourist-season traffic backups.
“This is a major thoroughfare – I know we’re trying to save a life but we could create a bigger traffic problem. Pedestrians now become traffic cops,” Morrison observed.
I know, it sounded a tad callous – however, Town Manager Waltz explained that Morrison has inquired about the possibility of installing a pedestrian bridge as an alternate safety solution. Waltz said he did not yet have a cost estimate on that option.
After examining the design of the overhanging traffic light structure, this reporter later offered town staff a compromise solution – a raised zip-line over high-traffic count streets. HEY, it could: 1/ add a little fun and excitement to the crossing; 2/ not back traffic up; 3/ and could even be promoted as a tourist attraction – “Come zip across the streets of Front Royal” … or something.
Vice-Mayor Tewalt, a former town public works director, suggested the raised island at the halfway point of the crossing would be a hazard for snow removal trucks and other vehicles. Attaching flags that would rise above any snow and mark the location of the raised island was suggested as a solution.
Tewalt also broached the idea of making the island out of a spring-loaded device that would flop over if struck by a car, rather than potentially tear the undercarriage up.
Waltz said he would explore identifying markers and non-concrete options for the safety islands at the midway point of the road (and don’t forget to price those bridge and zip-line options, Joe).