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Alexandria family shares story of loss as they push for safer streets for pedestrians

October is National Pedestrian Safety Month, and activists are advocating for leaders to shift focus away from car convenience in safety initiatives.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It's been four years since one Alexandria woman lost her dad after he was hit by a car. Now, she's sharing her story in the hopes of making streets safer for pedestrians.

“Oh, that brings a lot of memories," Deyhim Behzadi said, looking at a picture of her parents. "I mean, this is the last birthday of my father that we celebrated. He was 80 at the time…Yeah, he would go for a walk every afternoon with my mom hand in hand."

During one of those walks in 2017, her father, Habibollah Behzadi was hit and killed by a car while he was walking with her mom in a crosswalk. Her mom was also hit, suffering serious injuries, but survived.

“He had fractures all over," she said. "He was just lost.”

Just last month, another man was hit and killed in Alexandria, according to city police.

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As crashes claim more lives by the day, Behzadi is advocating for new laws to protect pedestrians and safety measures, like a warning lights button, which she says was added to the intersection where her parents were hit after the crash.

As she pushes for upgrades in Alexandria, activist Peter Gray is working to make streets safer in Montgomery County, Maryland.

County data shows that cars have crashed into about 200 pedestrians there so far this year, killing at least five people.

“The bottom line is, the culture has to shift within the transportation agencies from how do we get the most cars through an intersection to how do we make these intersections safe for everybody who uses them?” Gray said.

He's co-chair of the steering committee for the group Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets and a member of the board for the Washington Area Bicyclists Association.

He said other initiatives that would help are widening sidewalks, taking out car lanes for protected bike infrastructure, and slowing speeds down.

Gray also said the changes have to happen a lot faster, saying state leaders have promised to add upgrades like hawk signals and crosswalks but still haven't five years later.

"They're just now starting to understand that they need to do more to make people who walk and bike and stroll and our wheelchairs safer, but the amount of effort they're making has still been very limited and a lot more has to be done," he said.

His group set up some ghost memorials at intersections where pedestrians have been killed to honor the lives lost and serve as a visual reminder of the importance of pedestrian and traffic safety.

Michelle Anderson, the Director of Operations for the National Road Safety Foundation puts more of the onus on pedestrians and drivers to be safer.

"We definitely need better infrastructure. I'll be one of the first people to say that," she said. "However, with all the infrastructure, with all the technology that we may have, it is an individual that has to control those things. So if we are educated, if we know, if we have these tips in embedded in our in our mind will do better."

Some of her tips for pedestrians include:

  • Stay alert at all times, removing earbuds and putting away your cell phone
  • Walk on sidewalks and crosswalks, not in between parked vehicles
  • If there isn't a sidewalk available, walk as far away from traffic as possible, facing traffic
  • Wear bright colors if walking at night

Some tips Anderson shared for drivers are:

  • Expect a pedestrian to come from anywhere at any given moment, so keep alert
  • Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or entering a crosswalk
  • Never pass vehicles that are stopped at a crosswalk
  • Always yield to pedestrians

The foundation is also sponsoring a contest for high school students called Drive Safe D.C. Anyone living in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia between the ages of 13 and 19 can enter with a pitch to demonstrate being a safe pedestrian or bicyclist on the road.

RELATED: DC leaders speeding up road projects to slow drivers down

If your idea is selected, you can win up to $2,000 and a chance to work with an Emmy Award-winning producer.

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