Norfolk LRT: Look both ways, folks.

I was first inclined to snicker when I discovered this recent WTKR-TV segment about keeping motorists and pedestrians safe when Norfolk’s new light rail system begins operation.

Come on — showing the reporter how to cross the street? Zooming in on the big “look” sign? Really!? It shouldn’t matter what type of vehicle we’re talking about; you look before you cross the street or change lanes or pull out into traffic.

Then again, if we all had common sense and used good judgment all of the time there wouldn’t be any traffic accidents, now would there? More to the point,  even the most cautious among us could use some pointers considering how many generations have passed since any significant number of North Americans shared the streets with rail vehicles. I am reminded of that point every time I visit Toronto, where unwary motorists pose a constant threat to streetcars and passengers.

Modern light rail vehicles are big, quiet and fast. This sort of reporting performs a vital public service wherever LRT comes to town. Norfolk’s 7.4-mile starter LRT line is expected to open in early 2011, but this report is timely because test trains are slated to start running soon, as reported by The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Aside from reiterating the basics of traffic safety, the pedestrian countdown signals referenced in the WTKR report are a useful amenity, and not just where LRT is concerned.

Then, there’s this rather unusual situation outside a Norfolk doctor’s office. The crossing ramp, as designed, does appear to be a recipe for disaster, and it seems that her efforts to have it reworked have been successful. “As a result of her concern, HRT plans to reposition the handicap ramp and install a safety fence,”  reporter Patrick Terpstra tells us.

But many of her young patients are autistic and “are fascinated by trains,” she told the reporter, and “I just don’t know if that will be enough.”

As a post-script, Norfolk’s streetcar system closed in July 1948, with a well-publicized riot in which souvenir hunters smashed and looted aboard the final Ocean View car. Those bygone Tidewater trolley days were relived last year when 91-year-old Randall Pike, perhaps the oldest living Norfolk streetcar driver, had a chance to inspect one of the new light rail cars, as seen in the above video. Read more about Mr. Pike, and see vintage trolley footage, again via The Virginian-Pilot.

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