Over the past six years of Richmond City Safe Routes to School programming, we have always included education as one of our focus areas. Early in our programming we focused on teaching kids to look both ways before crossing, wear bright clothing, and always do ABC Quick-Checks to be safe, as a kid walking or biking in the community. Our goals have always revolved around getting more students to choose active transportation, and to truly support those students in doing so. With injuries from automobile crashes being the most common cause of death in children, we can’t keep putting the burden and blame on our kids. People driving cars need to do better. Every person driving a vehicle needs to do better, all the time. Everyone one of use needs to do better, starting now.

In 2017 the City of Richmond, Mayor Stoney pledged to make Richmond a Vision Zero city, with the goal of eliminating traffic death. In 2018, after months of work by community members, advocates, elected officials, and the City’s Safe & Healthy Streets Commission, a Vision Zero Action Plan was created and adopted. Our program was a partner in this process. I personally walked with my newborn son in his stroller while on maternity leave, to meetings at various downtown locations, and am still grateful for the experience. I’m grateful to have lived in a relatively walkable place. A place where transit is abundant, where I can count on there being a sidewalk, and perhaps see more protected bike lanes being installed. I’d be remiss if I didn’t share how I regularly experienced traumatic, near-death experiences: bumpers coming within inches of my newborn’s head that only stopped because I screamed and threw myself in front of the car, moments of horror as my preschooler rode his balance bike a little close to the curb, as a driver swerved a bit too close, and just about every person who rolls through a right on red, nearly taking us all out in one distracted second. I still walk as much as I can for transportation, I ride my bike both with & without my family as often as I can, I take transit, but I’m also a person who drives a car. All of these transportation experiences have gotten increasingly terrifying in recent years.

Distracted or impaired driving, speeding, aggressive driving, and the increase in vehicle size are all contributing to a significant increase in traffic fatalities. In the City of Richmond, between 2019-20 traffic fatalities rose by 63%, with and 80% increase in crashes involving pedestrian fatalities. Aajah Rosemond, a Richmond Public Schools’ student at George Wythe High School was killed at an intersection near her home, walking to the grocery store on October 18, 2020. Her family has spent the last year asking drivers to slow down. I would like to add that we all need to put down our phones, stop when and where we should, make sure that we’re driving with clear heads, and if we choose to drive a large vehicle, we take extra precautions to keep our community, especially our community’s children, safe.

To solve this, and work toward a goal where we eliminate traffic death, or at least make it so that traffic death is not the leading cause of death in children, we need all of the five facets of The Safe Routes to Schools Es to be a part of our culture: Engagement, Equity, Engineering, Encouragement, Education, & Evaluation. We can apply each of these in different ways to the behavior of individual drivers, but today I’m asking you to be educated on how you can improve road safety, and to support plans for engineering safer roads in your community. Please consider engaging your community, and share these goals. Whether you’re waling, biking, using transit, or driving, you don’t want to have to live with the devastation of being involved in a crash that results in serious injury or death for you, someone you love, or anyone else.

James Patterson, a RPS Crossing Guard, gives a high five to a student.