VCU PD makes traffic safety improvements after student death on campus

Intersection where driver hit and killed student Mahrokh Khan. Photo by Alessandro Latour.

Katie Farthing, Staff Writer

VCU Police Department has increased traffic safety efforts on campus after the death of student Mahrokh Khan on Jan. 27, according to Corey Byers, public relations specialist for VCU PD. 

VCU PD officers issued 466 traffic summonses in 2022, according to Byers. From Feb. 1 to March 24 of this year, VCU PD officers issued 559 traffic summonses, according to Byers. 

There were 35 hit-and-runs between vehicles in February and 26 in March within the Monroe Park Campus, according to VCU PD Daily Crime Log

The streets and sidewalks on VCU’s campus are city property, so the City of Richmond would be responsible for changing speed limits, according to Byers. 

Strong Towns is a nonprofit organization that advocates for more sustainable development practices within cities, according to Edward Erfurt, Strong Town’s director of community action. 

“We’re looking to make changes within the way that we in America or North America review and analyze crashes on our roads,” Erfurt said. 

Strong Towns published a crash analysis discussing the intersection of West Main and Laurel Street where Khan was killed. It is the third they’ve done and they plan to do 18 this year, according to Erfurt. 

Erfurt said crashes are recommended for analysis by people on the ground and information is then collected about the crash and the surrounding area.  

This crash was nominated by Sharon Shaw, a mother of a VCU student, according to Erfurt. 

Strong Towns gathers a panel of local and national experts to provide multiple perspectives on the crash, according to Erfurt. 

“It’s not about blame,” Erfurt said. “This is about looking at the actual intersection from multiple perspectives and trying to explore the things there.” 

A preliminary speed study showed that the 80th percentile of drivers was exceeding the 25 mph speed limit up to 45 mph in the high pedestrian traffic area, according to Erfurt. 

“There are things on the ground that had been built that contributed to this particular crash,” Erfurt said. “There are contributing things in the way that street is designed that makes the driver feel comfortable driving that speed.” 

Erfurt said it’s a driver-awareness issue, not a driver-behavior issue. 

“We at Strong Towns believe that this is something that shouldn’t wait months or years to review and address,” Erfurt said. “We took this one on because we felt that we could advocate for improvements here and on campus.” 

A non-fatal collision occurred on the VCU campus during the week of Khan’s death, according to the analysis

Vision Zero is a nonprofit organization that promotes a goal of zero traffic deaths among all road users, according to Leah Shahum, founder and executive director of the Vision Zero network. 

Richmond set the goal of Vision Zero in 2017 and developed an action plan, according to Shahum. 

A lot of cities in America are built for speed and convenience and not for the safety of different road users, according to Shahum. 

“We are at the bottom of the barrel in terms of roadway safety,” Shahum said. “It’s literally because we built the roads this way.” 

Shahum said it’s common for those injured or killed in traffic to be blamed when safety and road design should be considered.  

“We really need to look and say, are the environments that we’ve built for people, are the systems we built for them, are they safe for everybody?” Shahum said.

Certain things can be looked at and fixed in order to prioritize safety, according to Shahum.

“That really means looking more and spending more energy and resources on how the roads are designed, how the speeds are set, how people are getting around because their environment is encouraging safe behavior or discouraging,” Shahum said. 

Education only helps so much and there are more ways to be proactive about traffic safety, according to Shahum. 

“We want to keep education and et cetera, but let’s not pretend, let’s not fool ourselves that that’s going to save lives at the rate we want,” Shahum said. 

Looking at road design involves changing certain aspects like traffic circles, street lighting or stop lights, according to Shahum. 

62% of all serious crashes and injuries happen within 7% of all road mileage within Richmond, according to the action plan

“We should be proactively fixing those streets before someone is hit,” Shahum said. “We don’t need to wait until people die to fix the street.”

Editor’s note: this story has been modified with additional clarifications on statistics.

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