In many instances, it is clear that the pedestrian has the right-of-way, such as in marked crosswalks, or on sidewalks. It seems to me that a pedestrian/bike lane is a place where pedestrians have the right-of-way. Why else would it be designated a pedestrian/bike lane? Apparently Kelley Howell thought so, too, until she collided with a Virginia Department of Transportation SUV in the caged pedestrian/bike lane on Berkley Bridge in Norfolk on June 14.
Howell was on her way downtown when she saw the SUV coming straight at her. She was unable to stop in time. She described the incident to 13 News Now: “I saw this vehicle. Oh, my God. Brake, scream, when I realized I was hitting him. There was no way to stop it, but I had hit immediately on my hand hit the front of his car, I guess, glanced around the right, top right corner, and, then, what hit me the most was the mirror.”
She recorded the incident on her handlebar-mounted camera, which she uses to make videos to advocate bicycle safety.
Although she and the driver exchanged information, she didn’t call authorities until several hours later. VDOT told her to call Norfolk Police Department, so she did. When the officer came, she offered to show him the video. In her opinion, the policeman brushed her off and even suggested she caused the accident. The officer said Norfolk PD could not investigate the crash because the pedestrian/bike lane is controlled and regulated by Elizabeth River Crossings, a private company.
WVEC followed up with Elizabeth River Crossings, who responded in an email that the incident wasn’t reported to them, and VDOT was the proper party to contact because its vehicles tender the bridge. But when WVEC contracted VDOT, its spokesperson said VDOT defers to Norfolk PD when there are incidents.
Let’s get this straight: VDOT referred Howell to Norfolk PD. Norfolk PD referred her to Elizabeth River Crossings. Elizabeth River Crossings said VDOT vehicles use the lane, so they are in charge. VDOT defers back to Norfolk PD. Clearly the Berkley Bridge pathway is a jurisdictional mystery that needs to be solved.
Luckily, Howell had only scrapes and bruises, but she is rightly concerned about safety on this bridge. VDOT says there are signs on the bridge warning pedestrians that VDOT vehicles use the lane. How hard would it be for VDOT to place a warning code or barricade at both sides of the pedestrian/bike path, before its vehicles begin driving down such paths? Ultimately, the lane just isn’t wide enough to safely accommodate a vehicle and a pedestrian or cyclist. The VDOT needs to rethink its use of full-size vehicles on a pedestrian pathway. Just as Howell didn’t see the SUV in time to stop, the SUV didn’t see Howell in time to stop, either.
Our firm has handled many cases for pedestrian and bicyclist victims who were injured or killed by cars. My experience tells me that allowing full-size vehicles to travel this pathway – for whatever purpose – is dangerous. It’s only a matter of time before a pedestrian or cyclist on this bridge is seriously injured by an unexpected oncoming VDOT vehicle. Elizabeth River Crossings and the Virginia Department of Transportation need to solve their jurisdictional issues and get vehicles off this and every pedestrian bridge pathway in Norfolk.