Two wrecks lead to questions about Richmond traffic lights

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Two more crashes are raising questions about the safety of a downtown Richmond intersection. People who live and work in the area question whether traffic lights are to blame.

Thursday morning, a driver ran a red light at Second and Grace Streets, hitting a taxi, pushing it all the way into a Wachovia bank branch. Just hours after that was cleaned up, another, less serious, collision happened in the very same spot.

The problem appears to be that drivers don't often notice the stoplights, which at this very intersection are on the side of the road, and not hanging directly overhead.

Shaun Aigner-Lee has managed Dementi Studio for six and a half years, long enough to make picture perfect memories of what happens right outside her office window.

ANDY: And what have you seen in those six and a half years?

SHAUN: A lot of accidents.

She says they happen at least once a month...but never twice in one day, until now.

"Yeah, it's a little scary," she said, adding, "I think a lot of people just don't notice that the lights are on the street corners, since they're not overhead."

Grace Street is one-way here, and for several blocks, drivers obey traffic signals that are directly overhead. It's easy to assume that all the blocks are that way, until they suddenly change to the side of the road. Not everyone notices.

In 2009, 11 crashes happened at Grace and Second Streets. Eight crashes happened at Grace and First. Then, in 2010, a Richmond police officer was hurt when a driver ran a red light at Grace and First, prompting questions that persist to this day.

"Why does this keep happening at this particular intersection repeatedly?" said a witness to the February 14, 2010 crash.

The city's Public Works department is responsible for the lights. Director Sharon North said "The driver has to be diligent, as they would at any intersection, but the lights are not unsafe."

Meanwhile, Shaun wonders when another memory will be made outside her window.

"We've seen a couple of times where people have run into the bank across the street. Fortunately, nobody's  ever come up on our curb, which I guess is good," she said.

Richmond Public Works says the city is gradually replacing the pedestal lights with ones that hang overhead. Grace Street is part of the project, and the existing pedestal lights could be gone by this summer.

In the first of this morning's crashes, the driver was ticketed for running a red light. No word yet on any possible charges in the second. There were no serious injuries reported.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.