After 2 VCU student deaths in months, Richmond leaders talk ways to keep pedestrians safer

Posted at 4:39 AM, May 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-09 04:43:36-04

RICHMOND, Va. — The tragic death of Virginia Commonwealth University student Shawn Soares was felt by many in the college community.

Soares, a beloved graduate student, was working toward a master’s degree in business administration. Richmond Police said he was struck and killed Thursday night while walking on the sidewalk after two vehicles collided in the 300th block of West Main Street, sending one into the side of a building.

Two students, who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the crash, brought flowers to the crash site on Monday afternoon to pay their respects.

“We were just watching, literally, the drivers go through the live emotions of distress and shock and watching them just collapse in the street,” said student Cammy Fisher.

Soares is the second VCU student to be killed this year in an on-campus crash. Mahrokh Khan, 23, was hit and killed while crossing Laurel and West Main Street in January.

Two student deaths in one semester have several students concerned about pedestrian safety. Some say dangerous drivers, crowded intersections and distracted pedestrians have become the norm on and around campus.

“We’re not always paying attention, I can admit that” said VCU student Noor Elghazi.

“I feel like it’s such a daily task,” adds student Tran Le. “We get used to being in the motions and we don’t pay attention but really one small mistake, as you can see, can cause someone to die.”

At Monday’s night’s city council meeting, some of the same concerns echoed among local leaders. Many council members expressed frustration over the lack of correspondence after Khan’s death, as well as antiquated traffic patterns and roadways that have contributed to hazardous conditions.

“People are disregarding our traffic laws and I see it every day,” says 1st District Councilman Andreas Addison. “[Roadways] were designed to get people in and out of downtown as quickly as possible. Now we’re trying to create a vibrant downtown commercial area that is safe for everybody and we’re starting to see the conflict.”

While funds have already been allocated for certain safety projects, traffic engineers are proposing more red-light cameras, speed tables and increased patrols around the VCU corridor and in other high-risk areas of the city. Proposals to turn Main and Cary Streets into two-way roadways were also suggested.

Addison said he’d like to see the creation of a city Department of Transportation, to streamline safety measures that are currently being handled by more than one department. He said the new department could be responsible for designing safer city streets and using allocated funds for safety improvements.

“All I’m asking for is that we look at how we deliver, in a 21st century way, ways to put these resources in the same office, with the same budget, and at the same time looking at these opportunities together,” Addison explained.

Tran Le said that several students in the VCU community are open to ideas for enhanced safety and stricter traffic enforcement that hold people accountable for their actions.

“I feel if there’s cameras and people get the repercussions of bad actions, I think it would create more changes and students would be safer on campus,” Le said.

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