Chesterfield and Henrico residents are fed up with speeding
About eight years ago on Memorial Day, Keith Williams was alone at his Chesterfield County home when a car crashed into his slate-colored house. The car managed to jump over a ditch, roll over tree stumps and wipe out Williams’ deck.
The accident came after the driver had a seizure, causing them to slam on the gas.
“They estimate he was doing 45 miles an hour when he hit my house,” Williams said.
Williams said this wasn’t the first time someone barreled onto his property during the 30 years he’s lived there. But it was the first time someone actually made it all the way through the yard and into his house.
He and his family have had other near misses, too.
“We had my youngest daughter's high school graduation, [and a] couple of cars were parked out here by the road,” he said. “My [other] daughter was putting her children into the car, and we were almost hit by another vehicle running [a] stop sign.”
Williams’ house sits in a unique spot. Three streets — Nahant Road, McManaway Drive and Quisenberry Street — basically converge around his home, one of which dead ends at his unfenced backyard. On average, this street sees about 1,300 daily drivers, according to VDOT.
For years, Williams said, there was a stop sign at the intersection, but it was a lightning rod for complaints with county officials and the police department.
“Sergeant [James] Lamb was the traffic officer at the time. And I think he got tired of having these officers come out and enforce it,” Williams said.
He said Lamb and Chesterfield County Supervisor Chris Winslow came to listen to his concerns, but eventually, the sign was replaced with a yield sign.
“They stopped all action. He got with VDOT and had them change it,” said Williams, who added that he’s frustrated and unsure what to do about the situation.
The number of people killed by speeding drivers in Virginia is on the rise compared to last year, according to preliminary data from the National Safety Council. Residents in suburban neighborhoods are fed up.
Getting help to combat speeding in suburban neighborhoods can take a long time, depending on where you live and who maintains the roads.
According to Terrell Hughes, Henrico County’s director of public works, they’re one of only two counties in Virginia that maintains most of its roads.
“Us and Arlington, we’re unique,” Hughes said. “We’re the only two that, I guess going back to say the 1930s, opted to maintain our own roads. That's a little different than Chesterfield, Hanover, Goochland. The city is different, because they’re independent; cities maintain their own streets.”
Hughes said larger roads, like Broad Street, are maintained by VDOT. But because Henrico maintains its smaller roads, the county’s able to make safety changes more quickly.
“So, for us to do things like put speed bumps or put signs or even the process of changing the speed limit on a road, that's county maintained,” said Hughes, who added that minor changes to roads don’t need approval from county supervisors.
He said they’ve streamlined their traffic-calming program, minimizing the bureaucracy that people previously had to navigate. In the past, one of those requirements was getting 70% of residents along a street to approve any changes.
“So, a little bit burdensome, a lot of the effort had to be led by the residents to get signatures,” Hughes said.
In Chesterfield County, officials said they work with the police department and VDOT to combat speeding.
“The traffic- calming tools Chesterfield uses are police enforcement, additional fines for speeding in residential areas and pole-mounted speed display signs,” Barbara Smith, of the county’s transportation department, wrote in an email. “In evaluating a concern, we confirm that there is actually a speeding problem by collecting speed data.”
Smith said the county also has to get community support to implement any road changes, like reducing the speed limit or adding an extra fine for speeding. In addition, they need the state’s approval.
“VDOT must approve the additional fine for speeding and pole-mounted speed display signs,” said Smith.
VDOT’s website explains how speed limits are determined and recommends that neighborhood residents contact local police if they’re concerned about speeding motorists.
The site has a long list of traffic-calming suggestions and tips on how to stop trucks from cutting through neighborhoods, as well as how to obtain neon “Watch for Children” signs for the neighborhood.
“A proposed traffic-calming plan must be approved by 50 percent or more of the affected households in the community and endorsed by the BOS or Town Council,” according to VDOT.
But as several Pinetta Drive residents told VPM News, the process just to get a radar sign took several years.
Pinetta cut through
Pinetta Drive is a well-known North Chesterfield cut through for drivers hoping to save a bit of time between Midlothian Turnpike and Buford Road. It’s slightly hilly with little twists and turns and no sidewalk or bike lane. It’s also a well-known speed trap, according to area residents.
According to data provided to VPM News by the Chesterfield County Police Department, from 2019 to 2021 more than 850 tickets and warnings were given to speeders on Pinetta Drive. And according to DMV records, there were 22 accidents there between 2017 and 2021.
Chris Foster is still new to living along Pinetta.
“Traffic is ridiculous. It’s supposed to be 25 miles an hour,” said Foster, who’s witnessed her daughter struggle to turn left into their driveway across a lane of traffic.
“She was stopped because there was a car coming. The person behind her thought she was waiting too long. And they zagged around her and then sped off,” Foster said.
For years, residents on Pinetta Drive — which sees about 3,700 drivers a day, according to VDOT — have complained to the police about speeders.
“It's very frustrating. It's scary for those around us. I don't know what the solution is,” said Foster, who added that with the neighborhood pool open for the summer, she worries about children trying to cross the street.
While police officers regularly perform speed checks — and the county recently installed a radar speed sign — Foster said the efforts aren’t helping.
What could make a difference, according to Virginia Tech traffic safety professor Bryan Katz, is designing roads in a way that changes driver behavior.
“If we can design a roadway that has the appearance, that it's important to drive slower, that's where we're going to get our best way of having people actually being able to drive a safe speed,” Katz said.
Katz said some features that can be added to roads to decrease vehicle speeds include speed humps, pedestrian islands and mini roundabouts.
“When drivers are selecting a speed, they're using a number of measures that impact their behavior, right?” Katz said. “Do I have a wide roadway? Are there pedestrians? Is there a double yellow line in the middle? Or is there a lot of roadside development nearby? ... All of those things come into play when drivers are selecting speeds.”
He said engineers can change driver’s behaviors by developing something called a “self-explaining road.”
“The idea of a self-explaining road is one that's designed so that … drivers choose to go at an appropriate speed because it's the speed that feels right to them,” said Katz.
By installing traffic-calming measures, Katz said engineers can help slow down drivers. He also said there needs to be an integration between the engineering community and the enforcement community.
“[E]ngineers can design different facilities to try to encourage people to reduce speeds,” Katz said. “But a lot of times, unless there's some type of enforcement element, it can be really difficult to change behaviors.”
Traffic-calming changes can’t come soon enough for some Chesterfield residents.
“I was talking to my husband one day,” Foster said. “Maybe, if I could get everybody on Pinetta to hold up signs like, ‘Watch for our children’ or I don't know. But it seems like something has to be done. I don't have the answer.”