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Kelly Booth

More Pedestrians Are Dying on Virginia’s Roads

 

By Kelly Booth and Judi Dalati, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — On a Friday night in October, Katelyn Tilts was walking to a convenience store with a group of friends when she saw headlights coming at her.

“A car came around the corner really quickly and was swerving. The driver was swerving but started going directly at me and hit me head-on,” Tilts later told WTVR. “I remember thinking that it hurt so bad that I didn’t know how I would be able to make it until the ambulance got there.”

The hit-and-run incident left Tilts, a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University, hospitalized and on crutches. She survived, but many pedestrians hit by vehicles do not.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles, 123 pedestrians died on the state’s roads in 2018 — the highest death toll in 10 years. 2019 also has been deadly: Preliminary figures show that at least 120 pedestrians died in traffic accidents in the commonwealth last year.

Not only are more pedestrians being killed, but they also are making up a greater proportion of all traffic fatalities:

§  In 2015, 10% of the people killed in roadway accidents in Virginia were pedestrians.

§  That figure jumped to 16% the following year. Last year, it was 15%, according to VDOT and DMV data.

“The vast, overwhelming majority of people who die on our streets are killed by drivers of cars,” noted Ross Catrow, executive director of RVA Rapid Transit, an advocacy group for regional public transportation.

“And the further sad truth is that these deaths and serious injuries often go unnoticed, underreported, and, even worse, usually nothing is done to build better streets and make them safer for people,” Catrow wrote on Streets Cred, his website about urban issues affecting mid-sized American cities.

Catrow has pointed out that some people say pedestrians are at fault for the rising number of traffic accidents. He rejects that notion.

“I’m so ultra-tired of engineers, elected officials and everyone else blaming ‘distracted pedestrians’ for the increase in injuries on our roads,” he said on his “Good Morning, RVA” podcast.

Catrow advocates traffic-calming measures such as painted curb bulbs and posts that can narrow intersections, increase visibility and slow down drivers to prevent pedestrian accidents.

Some people blame elderly drivers for causing accidents. But 25% of the motorists involved in traffic accidents that have killed pedestrians since 2013 were in their 20s — and half of them were under 40. About 22% of the drivers involved in pedestrian fatalities were 60 and older.

Ralph Aronberg, a traffic engineer consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said some people in their early 20s have poor driving habits.

“Drivers in that age group are more likely to use social media such as Instagram on their cellphone, are more likely to have groups in vehicles leading to distractions and are less likely to realize the consequences of taking their eyes off the road,” he said.

Aronberg, whose firm focuses on accident reconstructions, said people in their early 20s are also more likely to drive at night, drink and drive, or be under the influence of THC or other mind-altering substances while operating a car.

Pedestrians killed in traffic accidents in Virginia since 2013 have ranged in age from infants to 96. About a third of the victims were under 30; slightly over a third in their 40s and 50s; and the rest 60 or older.

Since 2013, Fairfax has had the most pedestrian deaths — more than 80, according to VDOT data. Then come Henrico County (43), Norfolk (40), Richmond (31) and Newport News (27).

The roads with the most pedestrian fatalities during that time period were:

  • Jefferson Avenue, Newport News — seven
  • Route 11, Washington County — three
  • South Street, Front Royal — three
  • Southbound Route 288, Goochland County — three
  • Chamberlayne Avenue, Richmond — three

Weather was not a factor in most pedestrian deaths.

“Most vehicle-pedestrian accidents happen in good weather,” said Daniel Vomhof, a traffic safety expert in California and a member of the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstructionists.

More than 85% of the pedestrian fatalities in Virginia happened in clear or cloudy weather conditions, the VDOT data showed. About 13% occurred in rain, mist or fog, and 1% in snowy weather.

To stay safe, Vomhof recommends that pedestrians wear white or reflective shoes at night and light-colored clothing that doesn’t blend in with the surroundings.

“Visibility increases when the object is in eye contrast to the background,” Vomhof said.

About the data in this report

The data for this project was downloaded from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Virginia Crashes | Virginia Roads website. It covers every vehicle crash in the state from 2013 to July of this year.

The data set contains more than 828,000 records. We filtered it for pedestrian accidents (about 11,000) and then for fatal pedestrian accidents (660).

We analyzed the data using Microsoft Excel, aggregating the data by locality, weather conditions and other columns in the spreadsheet.

We also used the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle’s online “Traffic Crash Data” tool to confirm and refine our analysis. We also ensured that the numbers were consistent with those published in the DMV’s report, 2018 Virginia Traffic Crash Facts.

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More Work from Home in U.S., Virginia and D.C. Area

 

By Kelly Booth, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — More Americans are working from home, and that’s especially true in Virginia and in the Washington, D.C., metro area, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nationally, the proportion of workers who work from home rose from 4.3% in 2010 to 5.3% last year, the data show. Virginia is slightly above the national average, with 5.6% of the state’s workforce working from home in 2018.

The figure was 6.1% in the D.C. metro area, which includes parts of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. That was the highest proportion of people working from home among the five U.S. metro areas with the most workers.

In contrast, the proportion of workers who worked from home last year was 5.9% in the Los Angeles metro area, 5.8% in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 5.4% in the Chicago area and 4.7% in the New York area.

Why are more people working from home?

“People are better able to focus and not as distracted as they are in the office,” said Brie Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs, a website that focuses on finding telecommuting jobs for workers in cities and remote areas.

Reynolds believes telecommuting will continue to grow. She said more people are turning to her company’s website to find work and more employers are offering remote work each year.

“I think more people’s jobs can just be done that way,” Reynolds said. “More people are able to do their jobs from anywhere where they’ve got a computer and an internet connection and maybe a phone.”

FlexJobs helps connect workers with a range of employment, including freelance opportunities and part-time jobs. The most popular categories this year for remote jobs are computer and information technology, medical and health, and sales, Reynolds said.

She said even doctors can now work from home, interacting with patients and insurance companies by phone and computer.

Education and training is another field on the rise, according to Reynolds. “There’s a lot more virtual education out there, online courses, and universities that are creating totally virtual or remote degree programs,” Reynolds said.

Women are more likely than men to work from home, according to the Census Bureau. The percentage of U.S. women who work from home rose from 4.4% in 2010 to 5.7% in 2018. For American men, the proportion went from 4.3% in 2010 to 5% last year.

According to Derrick Neufeld, associate professor of information systems and entrepreneurship at the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, employers can save money in real estate and rental expenses by having people work remotely or work from home.

“That can be a very significant factor. If they can start shutting down office space, it can save a lot of costs,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld said working from home can be a desirable alternative work arrangement, allowing workers to live farther from the city.

But there are downsides to working from home.

Neufeld said his recent studies have found that people who don’t meet face to face have a problem assessing the trustworthiness of their coworkers.

“It’s like a switch that doesn’t get turned on,” Neufeld said. “We can’t simply replace face-to-face communication with, let’s say, a video cast.”

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Voter Registration Is Up More in Democratic Strongholds

By Kelly Booth, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Over the past four years, voter registration has grown faster in Virginia localities that tend to vote Democratic than in localities that usually go Republican. That could spell trouble for the GOP heading into November’s elections.

Between August 2015 and August 2019, voter registration increased 9% in the state’s Democratic strongholds but only 6% in Republican strongholds, according to an analysis of data from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Democratic Party officials say they are pleased about the trend in a year when Virginians are electing state legislators but not a governor or U.S. senator.

“We always say slower turnout with Virginia’s off-year election and fully recognize that this is an off-off year election with no statewide race,” said Kathryn Gilley, communications director for the House Democratic Caucus. “That being said, the fact that there is so much new voter registration ... Virginians are really aware of the importance of this year.”

But Jeff Ryer, press secretary for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, said an increase in registered voters in Democratic areas doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats will win at the polls. He said something similar happened in Florida in 2016 and 2018, with news stories and opinion surveys predicting victories for Democrats.

“Not only did they (Democrats) not prevail, but they lost both,” Ryer said. “One of the things I really like to point out to people is Republicans do much better at the polls than in the polls.”

Gilley said Democrats are still energized from the 2016 presidential election, in which Hillary Clinton carried Virginia but lost in the Electoral College to Donald Trump.

“Trump’s election has really highlighted the importance of state legislatures,” Gilley said.

Pro-Trump vs. Pro-Clinton localities

Statewide in 2016, 50% of Virginia voters cast their ballots for Clinton and 44% for Trump. (The remaining votes went to the Libertarian and other minor-party candidates.)

Trump carried 93 cities and counties in Virginia, mostly in the less populated southern and western parts of the state where population has been flat or declining. Clinton carried 40 localities, largely in Northern Virginia, the Richmond area and Hampton Roads — areas that are more densely populated and generally are growing in population.

Last week, the Virginia Department of Elections posted data on how many people were registered to vote in each locality as of August. Capital News Service compared those numbers with the corresponding data for August 2015, when Virginia was preparing for a similar election in which only legislative and local offices were up for grabs.

During the four-year period, voter registration increased 6.4%, to 2.68 million, in the 93 localities that voted for Trump. But the number of voters jumped 8.6%, to 2.91 million, in the 40 localities that backed Clinton.

The difference was even bigger in the communities that went heavily for one candidate or another:

·         Seventy-six localities cast at least 55% of their votes for Trump. In those cities and counties combined, voter registration went up 5.8% over the past four years.

·         Thirty localities cast at least 55% of their votes for Clinton. Taken as a whole, those areas have seen an 8.7% jump in registered voters since 2015.

For example, voter registration is up 16% in Richmond and 11% in Alexandria — cities that cast at least three-fourths of their votes for Clinton.

In contrast, voter registration declined slightly in most of the localities that cast at least three-fourths of their votes for Trump. For instance, the number of registered voters is down 5% in Buchanan County and 7% in Dickenson County.

Not every locality reflected the trend. Voter registration increased 15% or more in the Republican strongholds of New Kent, Louisa and Goochland counties, and it dropped in Greensville County and the cities of Williamsburg and Franklin, which tend to vote for Democrats.

 

But overall, the number of registered voters went up more in Democratic localities than Republican ones.

Will redrawn districts help Democrats?

Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, noted that voter registration increased after 11 Virginia House districts were redrawn this year. That happened after the courts found that the districts had been racially gerrymandered. The redrawn districts generally are more favorable to Democrats.

“When lines are drawn more favorably for one party or the other, that increases the quality of the candidates who are willing to run, increases the amount of money that donors are willing to spend, and those two things can increase voter interest,” said Farnsworth, a professor of political science and international affairs.

“Expect higher turnout in some of those newly drawn districts because they’re more competitive than they used to be.”

All seats in the General Assembly are up for election on Nov. 5. Currently, Republicans hold a 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate and a 51-49 edge in the House of Delegates.

Ryer noted that the Senate has had the same districts drawn by the Democrats since 2011.

“The Senate is operating under a Democratic gerrymander,” Ryer said. “Yet, despite the fact that the Democrats drew the lines, Republicans have been in the majority since those lines went into effect.”

Democrats are hoping to flip both chambers so that they control not only state government’s executive branch, with Ralph Northam’s election as governor in 2017, but also the legislative branch.

“If Democrats can pick up a few seats in either chamber, the legislature will shift. And if they pick up a couple of seats in both chambers, then Democrats will control the governor’s office as well as both chambers of the legislature — and we haven’t seen that in Virginia in 20 years,” Farnsworth said.

With control of the General Assembly at stake, Virginia’s legislative elections have attracted national attention.

“People really look to Virginia as an indicator for how the rest of the nation will vote, especially since we have become a purple (state) trending blue,” Gilley said.

“A lot of campaign operations and different groups almost use Virginia as like a test area for different tactics and strategies … National groups look at Virginia because we’ve got off-year elections, so they’ll implement strategies here to see if they want to use them in the regular-year election.”

Gilley said voters also were motivated by how close some elections have been in Virginia. In 2017, the race between Republican incumbent David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds in the 94th House District in Newport News ended in a tie. The election was decided by a lottery: Yancey’s name was pulled from a bowl, allowing Republicans to maintain control of the House.

Gilley said that election “really highlighted how important every single vote is.”

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