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Getting to Vision Zero: City Waits for Answers on Recent Pedestrian Death on Duke Street

On Thursday morning, William Tate waited for the pedestrian signal before crossing at the intersection of Duke and S. Pickett Street. Traffic wasn’t too heavy, but Tate still waited for a few minutes and sipped his coffee until the light told him it was safe.

“The biggest problem I see on Duke Street is that people just cut across on foot wearing dark clothing, and they get clipped,” Tate told ALXnow. “Sometimes I’ll see people just running across where there aren’t crosswalks and drivers don’t pay attention. You’ve got to pay attention.”

The wide roadway and long waits for walk signals don’t help matters, however.

Four days earlier, on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 26, 89-year-old Alexandria artist Alfredo DaSilva was killed while crossing Duke Street at the intersection with Cameron Station Blvd. Few details regarding the incident are known, and the driver, who called police and stayed at the scene, was interviewed and released. The incident remains under investigation.

There have been three pedestrian fatalities on Duke Street since the fall of 2018, one of which happened this past November. At around 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2019, John Thompson, a 77-year-old Fairfax County man, was killed crossing Duke Street at Sweeley Street, near the Alexandria Commons Shopping Center. A year before that incident, on Nov. 18, 2018, Nelson Javier Galdamez Reyes, 52, was fatally injured on the ramp from Duke Street to southbound I-395.

Most Alexandria streets are limited to 25 miles per hour, and a new online petition asking for support for a speed reduction to 25 mph, west of Quaker Lane and east of Jordan Street, has received more than 100 signatures.

The city considers Duke Street a “high crash corridor” and is one of the few Alexandria roadways with a speed limit of 35 mph. Last year, the speed limit for a portion of U.S. Route 1 between Four Mile Road and Slater’s Lane, which is another high crash corridor, was reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph.

The city recently began a new education and awareness campaign promoting its Vision Zero resolution, which city council adopted in early 2016 with the goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries in Alexandria by 2028.

There were 82 pedestrian-related crashes throughout the city in 2016. A 2017 memorandum found that a majority of these incidents occur at intersections with crosswalks.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that he’s still waiting to see results from the police investigation into DaSilva’s death, which, he added, was a “terrible loss of life.”

“We can always discuss the resources currently allocated to these efforts and whether additional efforts are required,” Wilson told ALXnow. “But we do frequently hear concerns about Duke Street from our residents. We must throw everything in our toolbox at the conditions that exist.”

Hillary Orr, deputy director of the city’s department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said that numerous pedestrian improvements are planned along Duke Street. One of those locations is at Duke Street and West Taylor Run Parkway, which has been deemed a high crash location. The project is currently in development and construction is slated to begin in 2025 and finish in 2026.

There are also a number of pedestrian improvements that would be implemented on Duke Street if Landmark Mall is redeveloped.

A key element of Vision Zero is encouraging people to take responsibility for their actions and be aware of their surroundings and behavior no matter what mode they’re traveling,” Orr said. “Duke Street is designed for people to drive quickly, but if people are driving faster and you get hit it’s going to be a more severe or fatal crash.”

Orr added, “During commute times, drivers will go really slowly and during off peak times it feels like an open roadway and people feel like they can drive really fast.” 

Charles Black, who works at an auto repair shop near Cameron Station Blvd, said traffic was light on Duke Street when Da Silva was killed.

“It was early Sunday. There wasn’t a lot of traffic. It’s still a busy road. Super busy,” Black said. “There’s the fire station around the corner and we definitely hear sirens two or three times a day. I was just saying earlier today that I’m getting tired of hearing them.”

Alexandria Police could not meet ALXnow’s deadline for traffic data on the corridor.

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