Crosswalks and pedestrian/traffic safety were the main topic of discussion during Halifax Town Council’s Tuesday evening work session and business meeting at Halifax Town Hall.
A fatality last month on South Main Street involving a pedestrian further emphasizes the need for additional crosswalks in the town of Halifax’s main business district, as town council discussed in Tuesday’s meeting.
A man was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street in the 400 block of South Main, where there is currently no crosswalk in place.
“I think we’ll be hearing back from VDOT (on the crosswalks) sooner rather than later because of the unfortunate fatality,” town manager Carl Espy said. “It has definitely gotten VDOT’s attention with some additional urgency.”
Several council members expressed their thoughts on the need for more pedestrian crosswalks on South Main and North Main Street.
Councilman Mike Trent said he had spoken to a pedestrian in recent days who had gone across South Main Street to the post office and had a “horrible time” getting back across the street.
“If they wouldn’t have been responsible and just waited (to cross the street), you could have had another accident,” Trent said. “It’s really serious…we’ve got to do something down there.”
He noted VDOT has made significant improvements in a short period of time on Sinai Road in South Boston to improve pedestrian safety, and he would like to see VDOT take swift action to improve pedestrian safety on Main Street in Halifax, as well.
Councilman and police officer Malcolm Bowen added employees of the bank on South Main Street regularly have a difficult time crossing the road to get to the post office, and he has been vocal about the need for additional crosswalks in the area.
Councilwoman Janice Powell asked for clarification on who has the right-of-way at a pedestrian crosswalk, the motorists or the pedestrians.
Espy said motorists should yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, but pedestrians have the responsibility to look both ways and ensure they have a reasonable amount of time to get across the street before crossing.
“We do have extra funds – a pedestrian working grant, so you’ll probably see more activity with enforcing that in the coming days, especially at the courthouse,” Bowen told Powell. “It’s my understanding that the police department did apply for more funding, so that is going to help give us a bigger push and more funds to try to enforce pedestrian (safety).”
Powell also asked about the possibility of implementing caution lights at the crosswalks to indicate that it is a pedestrian crossing area.
Espy said caution signals are a standard that has been included in the plan for the additional crosswalks that has been circulated to VDOT.
“It is my hope that we will see those crosswalks sooner rather than later,” said vice-mayor Gail Bosiger, who led Tuesday’s meeting in mayor Dexter Gilliam’s absence. “I do want us to remain vocal and active about this. I think if we step back and don’t stand up and say what we want to say about it, it may not happen.”
Another similar issue that council discussed is the condition of the railroad crossing and surrounding roadway on South Main Street. Bosiger pointed out that many pedestrians walk all the way down South Main Street and try to cross at the tracks, a dangerous location for crossing.
Councilman Jack Dunavant pointed out that Norfolk & Southern has the responsibility to maintain the railroad tracks itself, whereas VDOT has a responsibility to maintain the road, which he deems in need of improvement.
“We just need to get VDOT’s attention,” Dunavant said.
Later in the citizen comment portion of the meeting, citizen Shelia Bradley suggested that town council contact Delegate James Edmunds and request his assistance in setting up a joint meeting with VDOT and Norfolk & Southern to address the issue of the railroad tracks/road condition. Council was agreeable to that suggestion.
Pedestrian safety, speeding and traffic-related noise on Main Street have been ongoing topics at the last few town council meetings.
Town council received an update at Tuesday’s meeting on Halifax Police Department’s traffic-related enforcement efforts in the month of January specifically on North Main Street.
Councilman/officer Bowen explained that out of 76 traffic summons issued by the police department last month, 35 of those traffic stops were made in the 300 block of North Main Street alone. Out of those stops made on North Main Street, 24 citations were issued for speeding and equipment violations.
Making downtown Halifax a pedestrian-friendly locale and adding more parking in the downtown area are priorities in the town of Halifax parking and connectivity initiative headed up by Hill Studio and Kittelson & Associates, Espy noted.
To that end, town council by a unanimous vote authorized Hill Studio to complete several tasks dealing with pedestrian safety, parking and wayfinding signage. Councilman Bill Covington made the motion, and councilman Trent seconded the motion.
Espy also updated town council on a VDOT Smart Scale Project to increase traffic safety in a congested area of town.
The project involves constructing a roundabout at the intersection of LP Bailey Memorial Highway, North Main Street and Bethel Road.
The back street will be reconstructed with the intersection to create a four-legged intersection as opposed to the current intersection with three legs. The town manager said the roundabout project ranks sixth of 29 projects district-wide on VDOT’s scorecard.
“We would like to see that go forward, because that will be a start to some continued improvements on North Main Street,” Espy told council. “It is recommended for funding; it’s in the six-year improvement plan…unless for whatever reason it’s accelerated in schedule, that won’t be finished until 2031.”
Espy added that a roundabout in the neighboring town of South Boston is ranked No. 7 in the district on the project scorecard, and the high ranking of both those traffic safety measures bodes well for similar projects in the area in the future.
“I think that’s a pretty good indication that if we work on some additional long-term improvements, they will get funded,” Espy commented.