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New Traffic Signals In Richmond Aim To Reduce Traffic Crashes

A new traffic signal, called a 'pedestrian hybrid beacon' is up an running today on Grove Avenue at Somerset Ave. The light is designed to reduce crashes and allow people to cross safely. (Photo: David Streever/VPM News)

Starting today, drivers in Richmond’s West End may notice a new type of traffic light.

The ‘pedestrian hybrid beacon,’ designed to reduce traffic crashes and make it safer for people to cross busy streets, is on Grove Avenue near St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. According to the Federal Highway Administration, these signals are effective.

The FHA says they’re  “similar to a European pedestrian signal (PELICAN) that was imported to the US and adapted by engineers in Arizona to increase motorists’ awareness of pedestrian crossings at uncontrolled marked crosswalk locations.”

The three part light may look like one of the shapes from Tetris, but it’s actually designed to let drivers know someone wants to cross either on foot or by bike.

“It helps them know that there's actual activity in the intersection or the crossing area, rather than just like a signal cycle,” said Chet Parsons, director of transportation with PlanRVA, a regional planning commission that studies traffic issues. 

He said the beacons are not what drivers are used to seeing and calls them an “on-demand” kind of crosswalk.

“It also helps the traffic flow. Obviously, it's a good safety improvement for the cyclist and the pedestrians. But it doesn't introduce as much delay as other types of pedestrian crossing,” Parsons said.

The new lights have four modes, ranging from dark, which means you don’t have to stop, to flashing and solid yellow, indicating someone wants to cross, to solid red, which means stop.

They’re being rolled out at 12 additional locations following the successful installation at the intersection of Grove and Somerset Ave.

Over the last five years, that particular stretch of Grove Avenue -- between Libbie Ave and Three Chopt Rd.-- has seen 19 car crashes with one involving a pedestrian in 2019, according to Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data. 

It’s a busy area with businesses, St. Catherine’s school, and sharrows - markings to remind drivers to share the road with bicyclists. 

Parsons said Richmond is “leading the charge” when it comes to implementing new traffic safety measures and other localities, such as Chesterfield and Henrico, should take notice.

“If these installations are effective, and they see the data [and it] shows that it's making a difference, then I think it makes sense for other jurisdictions to look at putting some of these in,” Parsons said. 

He added the beacons would work in more urban or school areas where, “there's higher levels of pedestrian [and] bicycle activity” interspersed with vehicular traveling.”

This is the first of 13 beacons to be installed around the city. Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons are also planned for the following locations:

  • Belvidere Street at Virginia War Memorial
  • Broad Street at 16th Street
  • Forest Hill Avenue at Huguenot High School
  • Hull Street at Silverwood
  • Hull Street at Worsham Way
  • Laburnum Avenue at Holton Elementary School
  • Leigh Street at Abner Clay Park
  • Main Street at 24th Street (GRTC)
  • Main Street at Chimborazo Park/Pear Street
  • Semmes Avenue at Canoe Run Park
  • Semmes Avenue at Carter Jones Park
  • Williamsburg and Stony Run

Installing the beacons is part of the city’s Vision Zero Plan, which is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while “increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.”

Vision Zero was first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s and has proved successful across Europe, where it’s focus is on infrastructure adoption, like these beacons. According to Richmond’s Vision Zero website, the local initiative “aims to change the long-held belief and mindset that traffic fatalities and serious injuries are inevitable. Vision Zero espouses the belief that traffic related deaths and serious injuries are preventable.”


Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.