VDOT changes policy after cyclist and SUV collide on Berkley pedestrian bridge

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by 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on June 16, 2014 at 2:11 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 18 at 6:12 AM

UPDATE: On Tuesday, VDOT announced immediate changes to its policy on vehicle use on the Berkley Bridge pedestrian pathway.

The changes come after a cyclist collided with an SUV on Saturday.

"VDOT has modified procedures for access to the bridge, which restrict bridge tenders from utilizing vehicles for shift changes. Bridge tenders must now walk or utilize a motorized cart. When a vehicle is required, it will be accompanied by a walking spotter to identify any potential safety issues."

More Information: VDOT announces pedestrian pathway changes

The Virginia Department of Transportation confirmed Monday the driver of the car in Saturday’s accident is a bridge tender. VDOT says the contract employee has been placed on administrative leave while the agency investigates the accident.

In a statement Monday afternoon, VDOT Jennifer Gwaltney said the pedestrian bridge is regularly used by employees to drive to and from work. The statement said there are signs warning pedestrians and bicyclists of such.

“VDOT is working with its contractor to determine the factors involved in the incident and to ensure that proper policy and procedures were followed,” Gwaltney said.

Previous story:
NORFOLK -- Kelley Howell was in the caged pedestrian/bike lane of the Berkley Bridge, riding on her bicycle towards Downtown Norfolk Saturday. There was nothing out of the ordinary as they passed a few people on foot, nothing out of the ordinary until seconds later.

"I saw this vehicle," explained Howell, who recorded her ride with a handlebar-mounted camera. "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."

Howell exchanged information with the driver of the SUV, and she told 13News Now she called police several hours later.

Howell, a self-described bike safety advocate, documents her concerns through YouTube.

She records the videos using the same camera she used Saturday. She shared the video from that day with the police officer who came to her house after she called.

"I said, 'I have video if you want to see,' and he said, 'Oh, why do you have video?' and I explained that I use it to educate, and he said, 'Oh maybe you were the person who caused the accident,'" Howell recounted.

Howell said the officer told her police could not investigate because they had not been on scene right after the collision took place.

There is a lot of confusion about who has jurisdiction over the pedestrian/bike lane of the bridge.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Sergeant Michelle Anaya said Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) is the group that governs the pedestrian walkway and the rules that pertain to it, including how it is maintained. She added troopers referred Howell to Norfolk Police Department.

NPD spokeswoman Karen Parker-Chesson said an officer went to Howell's home at 5:49 p.m. Saturday. Howell said it was that officer who explained police would not be able to investigate.

ERC Public Affairs Manager Leila Rice wrote in an email:

The incident was not reported to ERC or to the Downtown Tunnel Control room. You may want to follow up with VDOT since the bridge tenders on the Berkley are VDOT employees/contractors.

13News Now contacted Virginia Department of Transportation.

Ron Watrous, Communication Manager for the Hampton Roads VDOT District, responded:

VDOT defers to law enforcement to address the details of incidents.

It is not unusual for vehicles to be in the lane. Signs advise people that VDOT vehicles may use the pathway.

The greatest concern for Howell, who had bumps and scrapes, is the safety of bicyclists.

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