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Henrico County launches education, enforcement campaign as vehicle crashes with pedestrians, bicyclists increase

Vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists are increasing across Henrico County, just as they are throughout Virginia and the United States. To reverse the trend, Henrico is responding with messages discouraging cellphone use and other distractions, targeted enforcement of traffic laws and a review of crosswalks, lighting or other design features that may be beneficial in certain areas.

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Vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists are increasing across Henrico County, just as they are throughout Virginia and the United States.

To reverse the trend, Henrico is responding with messages discouraging cellphone use and other distractions, targeted enforcement of traffic laws and a review of crosswalks, lighting or other design features that may be beneficial in certain areas.

“I firmly believe many of these fatalities could be prevented,” Police Chief Humberto “Hum” Cardounel Jr. said. “A significant number are due to human error.”

He’s urging everyone — motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists — to limit their distractions and take basic safety precautions. For example, motorists should slow down and remain alert, particularly in heavy pedestrian areas, and bicyclists should follow traffic laws as if they were in a car.

Similarly, pedestrians should carry flashlights and wear reflective clothing when out at night and use common sense when deciding when and where to cross a road. On high-traffic roads, cross at intersections and use crosswalks, if they’re available.

“Drive down Broad Street and you see people darting across eight lanes of traffic,” Cardounel said.

In 2018, Henrico had 92 crashes involving pedestrians, with nine fatalities, and 31 crashes involving bicyclists, including one fatality. The number of pedestrian deaths was the highest in the 25 years that Henrico has tracked the data, and the problem has only worsened in 2019, with eight pedestrians or bicyclists killed in crashes as of May.

Committee begins looking at additional safety measures

Alarmed by the number of incidents, Cardounel assembled a workgroup and asked it to focus on enhancing safety through education, enforcement, and road design, including whether sidewalks, crosswalks or lighting may warrant consideration. The group includes members of the Police Division, Division of Fire, Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Department of Public Works and Public Relations & Media Services.

In March, the group launched a public awareness campaign, called Watch Your Step!, to reach pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.

In a video public service announcement, Cardounel and Fire Chief Alec Oughton implore all travelers to takes steps to avoid crashes. The video, which debuted on social media, is expected to be supported by additional messages and outreach initiatives.

“We’re trying to share the message that all three groups have equal partnership in this,” Cardounel said, “and all three need to take actions to prevent crashes and fatalities.”

Police officers are reinforcing the safety message as well, giving a mix of warnings and citations for traffic infractions, said Lt. Robert Netherland, who oversees the Traffic Enforcement Unit.

Officers also have received refresher training on all applicable laws for pedestrians and bicyclists — “that a bicycle on the roadway has to obey all traffic laws as if it were a vehicle,” he said.

Enforcement efforts are somewhat limited by Virginia’s laws on driving with handheld devices, including cellphones. Cardounel called them largely unenforceable because they prohibit only texting and messaging and do not address many other activities that could cause a distraction and result in a crash.

Henrico’s ability to effect change also is challenged, he said, because many of the county’s higher-traffic roads are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Henrico has responsibility for neighborhood streets and other roads.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) recently added a crosswalk on Hungary Spring Road at Hermitage High School, where students had been cutting across the street mid-block to reach apartment complexes on the other side.

Engineers usually prefer crosswalks at intersections for safety reasons, but DPW recognized that students were unlikely to change their behavior and believed it was better to make the mid-block crossings as safe as possible.

Public Works also is looking at other high schools and along other roads, including Park Terrace Drive, to see if crosswalks would be recommended. In addition, the department continues to build sidewalks throughout the county, with $2.5 million budgeted in fiscal 2019-20. To request a review of a crosswalk or other improvements, contact Traffic Engineering at (804) 727-8282 or [email protected].

Officers identify crash ‘hot spots’

Police have mapped the locations of all pedestrian crashes since 2016 and identified “hot spots” where incidents have occurred with greater frequency.

For 2018, those locations correspond to major roads, particularly West Broad Street from Parham Road east to the Richmond-Henrico line, as well as areas along Ridgefield Parkway, Brook Road, Laburnum Avenue, Mechanicsville Turnpike, Williamsburg Road and Nine Mile Road.

Crashes often occur on primary roads because they carry a lot of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and have higher speed limits. If a driver or pedestrian diverts their attention for even a moment, the results can be tragic.

“If you’re distracted at 45 miles per hour, it doesn’t take long for something to come out in front and you not be able to stop in time,” Cardounel said.

He said it’s good that residents are walking and bicycling more for health and recreation and that many are taking advantage of expanded transit service in Henrico. To an extent, he added, the increase in crashes may be a byproduct of those changing habits and needs.

Henrico has had preliminary discussions with neighboring localities, state agencies, and others about collaborating on a public-education campaign to promote safer roads. Similar campaigns have helped to increase seatbelt use and reduce impaired driving, Cardounel said.

“We have to take a similar approach to distracted driving because it’s killing people,” he said.

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Henrico taps Sheila Minor to lead Department of Finance

Minor comes to Henrico from the city of Colonial Heights, where she has served as finance director since June 2017.

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Henrico County has appointed Sheila S. Minor director of the Department of Finance, effective Saturday, December 18th.

Minor comes to Henrico from the city of Colonial Heights, where she has served as finance director since June 2017.

Prior to her service with Colonial Heights, Minor worked as director of finance for Prince George County and as a budget and revenue analyst for Chesterfield County. She earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Tech. Minor is a certified public accountant, a certified public finance officer, and a certified government finance manager. She and her husband David have two daughters.

“Henrico County is fortunate to have such a truly experienced professional join our ranks,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said.

As Henrico’s finance director, Minor will head an agency with more than 160 employees and a budget of $15.1 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Finance comprises the divisions of real estate assessment, treasury, management and budget, accounting, purchasing and revenue. Among its scope of duties, the department prepares and administers the county’s operating and capital budgets and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report; reviews, assesses, bills and collects taxes, licenses and fees; assesses real estate and certain personal property; and purchases goods and services for general government departments and Henrico County Public Schools.

Minor also will serve as commissioner of revenue and treasurer for the county, as prescribed by the Code of Virginia.

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VDH announces new QR codes to verify COVID-19 vaccination status

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

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The Virginia Department of Health today announced the addition of QR codes – a type of barcode that can be scanned with smartphones – to Virginia COVID-19 vaccination records.

QR codes – short for “quick response” – are commonly used in retail, logistics, and other sectors. The technology allows anyone to show proof of vaccination with a digital or printed QR code instead of a paper card, and without the need for an app. As more and more employers and businesses respond to calls by President Biden and Governor Northam to require that employees and customers be vaccinated, QR codes will help improve the consistency and security of vaccination information while protecting individual privacy.

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

QR codes contain the same information as paper records, but in a format that offers greater security and efficiency. Because the QR code is digitally signed by the Virginia Department of Health, it cannot be altered or forged. Information from QR codes is only available if and when the individual chooses to share it. Businesses and employers that choose to verify an individual’s vaccination status can scan QR codes with the free SMART Health Verifier App. Individuals do not need to download an app to use QR codes.

Virginia is now the fifth U.S. state to adopt the SMART Health format for QR codes, empowering individuals with trustworthy and verifiable copies of their vaccination records in digital or paper form using open, interoperable standards. The framework and standards were developed by VCI, a coalition of more than 800 public and private organizations – including The Mayo Clinic, Boston Children’s Hospital, Microsoft, MITRE, and The Commons Project Foundation.

QR codes are available to anyone whose vaccination record includes a working phone number and is in the Virginia Immunization Information System (VIIS). Nearly all doses administered in Virginia are reported to VIIS, including pharmacies, physician offices, health department clinics, federally qualified health centers, and community vaccination centers. Some doses administered outside Virginia to Virginia residents may be in VIIS. Doses administered directly by federal agencies such as the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs are not reported to VIIS. A person whose record cannot be retrieved automatically may call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) for assistance.

With more than 10.2 million doses of vaccine administered so far in Virginia, more than 58% of the population is fully vaccinated. Everyone 12 or older is eligible to be vaccinated now. To find free vaccines nearby, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages.

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Va. Supreme Court clears way for removal of Lee monument in Richmond

In two opinions issued Thursday, the Court denied challenges by a small group of neighbors and an heir to the family that initially granted the land for the monument.

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By Ned Oliver

The Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way Thursday for Gov. Ralph Northam to remove the Lee Monument in Richmond, one of the largest Confederate memorials in the state.

In two opinions issued Thursday, the Court denied challenges by a small group of neighbors and an heir to the family that initially granted the land for the monument.

Northam announced he planned to take down the state-owned memorial in June 2020.

This is a breaking news update and will be updated as the situation develops.

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