Commentary

Delegate Kaye Kory’s Richmond Report

As a member of the House of Delegates, I believe that my main responsibility is to craft and fight for legislation that will improve the lives of those living in my district, District 38. This is a broad statement that I see as including two types of legislation: legislation that I believe has a good chance of passing, as well as legislation that may not, or likely will not, pass but brings attention to an important issue. Here is an example of a problem that legislation could help solve and in so doing, easily improve the lives of all Virginians. This problem is not one of policy nor that should provoke political partisanship. This problem is truly about commonsense.


Sometimes you don’t recognize a problem until it literally hits you or those you know or those you love.
This is sadly the case with the rising number of pedestrian and cyclist accidents and fatalities in our streets and, yes, on our sidewalks too.


This burgeoning and deadly trend became tragically personal for me this summer when a friend and fellow community activist, Eileen Garnett, was run over and killed by an out-of-control car crossing a median and a sidewalk into a 7-Eleven parking lot where Eileen was meeting with neighbors in an effort to strengthen redevelopment in our community.


The distracted driver who ended Eileen’s life was simply careless, thoughtless and inattentive — like many drivers who look away from the road for a few fatal seconds and risk forever changing the lives of those around them–and their families and friends.


On June 3rd, Daniela Betancourt, a sophomore at Annandale High School, was crossing the road in the crosswalk to a bus stop on her way home from her after-school job when she was run over and killed by a distracted driver. A woman was struck by a car and died this weekend near Fairfax Town Center. Yesterday a Springfield resident standing beside his disabled vehicle was hit and killed. His death is the 4th pedestrian fatality in Fairfax County this month. Let me repeat that–the 4th pedestrian death this month. October is not even two weeks old! More than sixteen pedestrians have been killed by careless drivers while trying to cross a road in Fairfax County this year. We are heading for a record number of pedestrian deaths in 2022. By this time in 2021 eleven pedestrians had been hit and killed in Fairfax County. While these numbers may seem small, remember that I am speaking of your friends and neighbors who have died while simply living their lives. These Fairfax deaths are part of a national trend of ever-increasing pedestrian deaths. This sorrowful upward trajectory also applies to bicyclists nationwide. Again, our family members, neighbors and friends dying on our roads and sidewalks. These deaths and injuries are so very preventable! Tragedies that we should not tolerate.


I am working with several citizen groups focused on making our streets and sidewalks safer–literally more livable. Fairfax Families for Safe Streets is collecting data on pedestrian and bicyclist accidents and deaths in our County in an effort to raise public awareness of this easily preventable rising death toll. I am also working with many constituents who have asked me to advocate for stop signs, pedestrian crossing signage and road safety studies. I am supporting these advocates by elevating their voices and by drafting legislation for the 2023 session, as well as calling attention to existing applicable law.


The existing applicable law to which I am referring is my bill, HB1705, which was passed in 2020. This bill was originally brought to me by the Virginia Bicycling Association and never should have taken years to be passed. But it did; and when finally passed, we celebrated the culmination of a ten-year effort. HB1705 “clarifies the duties of vehicle drivers to stop when yielding to pedestrians at (i) clearly marked crosswalks, whether a midblock or at the end of any block; (ii) any regular pedestrian crossing included in the prolongation of the lateral lines of the adjacent sidewalk sat the end of any block; or (iii) any intersection when the driver is approaching on a highway where the maximum speed limit is not more than 35 miles per hour. The bill also prohibits the driver of another vehicle approaching a stopped [for a crosswalk] vehicle from an adjacent lane or from behind from overtaking and passing the stopped vehicle. The bill contains technical amendments.” Since this bill became law in July of 2020, many jurisdictions surrounding Fairfax County have implemented it.


You may have seen the relatively new signs “Stop for Pedestrians” along crosswalks in Falls Church City and in Arlington County. Although urged by me and many Fairfax residents, Fairfax County has chosen to disagree with this law and refuses to post such signs along crosswalk lines. I see this as willfully ignoring a tool that could save lives.


In another effort to save lives with simple legislation, I am working on a bill that will protect those people stopped on the shoulder, whether with a disabled vehicle or while searching for a dog that has jumped out of a car window. A simple solution to what should not be a complicated problem. One more attempt at improving life in Virginia with commonsense legislation part of the job I was elected to do.