When class is dismissed and the streets of Richmond are flooded with students, think twice before darting through traffic to get to where you have to be.
“It was really sudden and everyone was kind of dumbfounded by it,” said freshman Corey Robinson. “I was standing on the patio of Brandt and Rhoads and this bicyclist got hit straight on by a car. Nobody was really sure of how to react, we were all just kind of like ‘did that just happen?’”
Stories like Robinson’s are not uncommon, especially in areas full of new students. What may also shock students is the fact the person hit is sometimes the one ticketed.
“There were two tickets issued just last month during bike safety week against a cyclist and a skateboarder who were both hit because they went against the signal,” VCU Police officer Matthew Ruland said. “I always say that a vehicle is basically a 2,000 pound missile on wheels coming at you. It won’t matter if you’re late to class if you get hit by one of those.”
Michael Kelly, a spokesperson for VCU PD, echoed the importance of being aware of one’s safety. State law dictates exactly how fines are awarded for pedestrian traffic violations.
“We’ve had several incidents since the beginning of the academic year that have involved pedestrians and bicyclists colliding with vehicles,” Kelly said. “Some of these have been the fault of the bicyclist or pedestrian, others the driver of the vehicle, but tickets have been written in many of those cases.”
Partially in lieu of the latter, Ruland spearheaded VCU’s first “Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week” which took place in September. The event was held in conjunction with RamBikes and the VCU Police Department to increase safety precautions and general awareness about traffic laws and how they apply to pedestrians.
“There’s no statistical data but it is a problem and it’s an especially noticeable problem when new students move in because there are so many kids coming in all at once,” Ruland said.
“It’s cyclical, and eventually the problem works itself out for the most part as the year goes on, but that’s why we’re trying to have it addressed early at things like new student orientation.”
VCU was ranked the most “bike friendly” university in Virginia by the League of American Bicyclists, and was also given the 17th spot nationally. The heavier concentration of bike traffic in combination with the fact that the university is an urban campus, makes the need for pedestrian safety and awareness all the more pertinent.
“We are constantly engaged in education and communication efforts to encourage safe behaviors in and around campus streets by pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers because no matter who is at fault in a collision, the risk of serious injury is so high that we want to avoid such interactions at all costs,” Kelly said. Ruland was careful to mention the problem, however, is not just limited to over-eager freshman who seem all too happy to ignore the rules. The VCU police department’s slogan is “Safety is everyone’s responsibility” and this does not exclude older students, faculty or even long time residents.
“I’ve been out there at intersections making people mad, and not just students or new students,”
Ruland said. “Adults and faculty too would be rolling their eyes at me and muttering things under their breath, but they’re not exempt from anything just because they’ve lived here longer.”
Students, however, sometimes feel that they can afford the risk of dodging oncoming traffic in order to get to where they need to be.
“Everyone jaywalks,” said freshman Maya Winfree. “Especially outside the dorms, nobody really pays attention to the signs. Adults, students, people on bikes, everyone basically just crosses the street as soon as there aren’t any cars around. We all have places we need to be.”
Winfree’s sentiment seems to be widely accepted, even in instances where students have observed the detrimental effects of ignoring pedestrian safety.
“It kind of made me realize ‘like ok, this is a real thing after I saw that guy get hit,’ but I also feel like he just wasn’t paying attention,” Robinson said. “As long as you aren’t stupid, most people are fine.”
This attitude falls in line with what Ruland says is one of the biggest causes for pedestrian-related accidents: lack of awareness.
“A lot of students are used to riding their bikes in neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs, and aren’t aware of the implicit dangers of an urban area, Ruland said. Vehicles are moving at higher speeds, sometimes there are two or even four lanes of traffic. People need to remember and just be aware of that.