Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Share Stories  |  Traffic  |  Columns  |  Q&A     |  Get Gridlock:    Twitter |    Facebook  |     RSS   |  phone Alerts

Campaign For Pedestrian Safety Begins

Many of the region's political and law enforcement leaders were at Thomas Circle in Washington today to renew their annual "Street Smart" campaign for pedestrian and bicycle safety. Of late, pedestrian accidents have provided their own unfortunate reminders that we need to be alert and aware of our surroundings as we drive, ride and walk.

But the problem didn't suddenly arise in the past few weeks: One out of every four people killed on the region's roads was walking or biking when the accident occurred.

Police Chiefs.jpg Police Chiefs Kathy Lanier of the District and Thomas Manger of Montgomery attended campaign launch. (Robert Thomson)

There are many letters in the Dr. Gridlock mailbag from people concerned about what's going on. Some are proposing law enforcement solutions. Usually, that means they want to see more law enforcement, like more ticketing of cellphone-using drivers in the District. On the other hand, I did get my first letter the other day from a driver protesting the new D.C. pedestrian safety law that bars drivers from going around a stopped bus to make a right turn.

But quite often, the letter writers are calling for more personal responsibility, rather than more law enforcement. They note the unsettling number of people who cross in mid-block, wearing dark clothing and headphones, while avoiding eye contact with oncoming vehicles.

Thomas Circle.jpg Rebuilt Thomas Circle allows pedestrians to enter circle. (Robert Thomson)

The choice of Thomas Circle for today's safety campaign launch was interesting, because it illustrates another part of the solution, an engineering solution. When the District Department of Transportation completed the reconstruction of the circle last year, the new design included bicycle lanes on the outer part of the roadway and pedestrian access to the center of the circle. That last feature wasn't just to give pedestrians a better view of the Rock of Chickamauga astride his horse.

It's actually an easier, quicker and safer way to walk across the circle.

I find in my travels that there's a new emphasis on pedestrian safety among traffic engineers in the Washington region and across the country. I see it in the designs of streets, the markings on the roadways, the warning signs and the pedestrian and bike accessways.

Circle Lanes.jpg New lane markers guide drivers and bikers through Thomas Circle. (Robert Thomson)

Many folks just want to know what the rules are. The Street Smart campaign gives out some good advice for drivers, bikers and pedestrians in this brochure.

Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger, who also has served as chief in Fairfax County, gave me an interesting theory on the causes of some pedestrian crashes. He thinks that urban drivers, who constantly see pedestrians, tend to be more aware of them. Suburban drivers, he theorizes, don't see as many pedestrians and may be less alert for them. He also suggested another urban/suburban split: Drivers who are rarely pedestrians themselves tend to be less aware of walkers.

Statistics compiled by the Northern Virginia Injury Prevention Center and Inova Regional Trauma Center for a report on the region's pedestrian injuries showed that most drivers involved in such accidents were driving straight and apparently not taking evasive action to avoid the collision, an indication that they were not paying attention.

The report showed that the most common action of a pedestrian before an accident was either crossing in the middle of the roadway or crossing without a "go" signal.

You can read the entire report by clicking here.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 20, 2007; 12:01 PM ET
Categories:  Safety  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: New Metrobus Rolls Out
Next: Traffic Safety Challenges for Drivers, Walkers


Dr. Gridlock's post notes the following:

"The report showed that the most common action of a pedestrian before an accident was either crossing in the middle of the roadway or crossing without a 'go' signal."

This doesn't surprise me at all. The culture of "I want to walk, so I get to walk wherever and whenever I want" has become a plague in downtown DC. Drivers need to let pedestrians take their turn, but pedestrians need to reciprocate. It's unreasonable for pedestrians to walk out against the light and then to get annoyed at drivers who honk at them, just as it's unreasonable for drivers to force their way into crosswalks when the light says "Walk."

The finding that I quoted above is significant to me because I think it gives the lie to the DC government's current attempt to demonize all drivers and to portray aggressive drivers as being at fault in all pedestrian-related crashes. The huge mobile board currently set up just east of 9th & Pennsylvania NW is an example--it emphasizes that drivers must yield to pedestrians, yet there is NO emphasis on the rule that pedestrians may not cross the street when the sign says "Don't Walk." (Moreover, let's be realistic--if you're wearing non-reflective black clothes and you walk out at midblock at night, you're an idiot.)

Demonizing drivers is not going to be a productive solution to the problem (and there is a problem). Certainly drivers who are in the wrong for failing to yield to pedestrians who cross legally deserve to be ticketed. They're endangering the pedestrians. But pedestrians who cross illegally and hold up traffic ought not get off scot-free, either.

Ultimately, it seems to me that a lot of pedestrians in DC want to challenge the drivers, and that's just dumb; even if you're in the right, you do yourself no favors if you get hit by a bus. A lot of drivers (especially men in suits) seem to think that they should have special privileges, and that's wrong too. bottom line, the rules for BOTH groups need to be better enforced.

Posted by: Rich | March 20, 2007 5:25 PM | Report abuse

"...not paying attention." BINGO.

I agree the pedestrians crossing against the light bother me to no end. As a frequent pedestrian myself, I do my best to cross the majority of the time with the light, and the rare time I cross against the light, I've made sure it's at an intersection where I can see far down the road in all directions, where there are NO cars coming, and that I have made eye contact with all drivers who might possibly turn right on red (illegeal where I cross the street, but they do it nonetheless and I watch for it before stepping out.) What you see in DC and streets in Old Town (YES! business "professionals" crossing whenever as I enter RIGHTFULLY into the intersection with the green light after waiting patiently at the red light...and I have to hope they move their arse out of the way before I squash them!) is outrageous disregard and disrespect of the rules of the road. Anyone who gets hit doing this, I have no sympathy for. One less lemming, thank you...

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | March 20, 2007 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I'm a runner. I run in the road as it's safer (at least drivers are looking and generally aware of what's going on around them - people on sidewalks certainly aren't). I run against traffic, as close to the curb as possible, trying to make eye contact with each driver so we each are aware of each other. The hugest hazards are people making left hand turns without signals because they can't be bothered to pull their cellphones from their ears to let other people know what they're going to do.

Posted by: Andy | March 20, 2007 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Oblivious pedestrians and clueless drivers are both a big problem in DC. It doesn't really matter who is worse, because both could stand improvement. I have asked friends from other large metropolitan cities (New York, Boston) and they all seem to agree that DC is pretty bad.
I am all for the need for "personal responsibility," as noted by Dr. Gridlock. But, that simply isn't working now, so we need to come up with a plan B--enforcement.
I also like the traffic engineering suggestion. Some intersections are just asking for it, not matter how careful drivers and pedestrians are. I recently ate at Booeymonger's in Friendship Heights, looking out the window at the intersection where a pedestrian was killed last summer. The engineering was bad then--90% of cars turn at the same time scores of pedestrians try to cross in not much time--yet nothing has changed.

Posted by: Alycia | March 20, 2007 7:44 PM | Report abuse

The advice to cyclists in the MWCOG pamphlet -- "Ride in a straight line to the right of traffic and about a car door width away from parked cars" -- does not reflect either the law or the current teaching on where to ride. What the law says, and what cyclists are now taught, is that cyclists must keep right only when the lane is wide enough for a car and a bicycle to ride side by side, and they are traveling slower than the speed of traffic. Maryland and Virginia don't specify an exact width for sharing, but DC says a lane must be more than 12 feet wide to share. Most lanes in DC are ten feet wide. When the lane is not wide enough to share, or if they are keeping up with traffic, cyclists should ride either in the center of the lane or in the right tire track.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2007 11:06 PM | Report abuse

It's funny that they picked Thomas Circle. From a cycling perspective, the changes DDOT made there are an unmitigated disaster. The bike lanes are useful only if you need to make a 170 degree turn, as they go from one circle entrance to the next, and do not encircle the circle. It has become very difficult to go through the circle on Massachusetts Avenue, as since the "improvements" were made the Massachusetts tunnel has been illegally closed to cyclists, and the bike lanes act as if Massachusetts doesn't exist.

I recently spent some time watching cyclists at the circle. I didn't see a single one using the bike lanes. The more confident ignored the signs and went through the tunnel, the less confident rode on the sidewalk.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2007 11:10 PM | Report abuse

All this "who struck John" about the report. What the report says basically, is that everyone should obey the law. Nothing any more dramatic than that. Cross the street at an intersection, walk when you got the "Man" and don't when you got the "Hands". There is a reason streets are about 3 times bigger than sidewalks.

Posted by: Stick | March 21, 2007 8:05 AM | Report abuse

I love that the picture shows a mail truck parked in the bike lane. Absolutely typical!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 22, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I would love to see a comparison of pedestrian accidents in the Washington DC area with California, where pedestrians have the right of way. From my experience, pedestrians in the Washington area suburbs often cross illegally because there is no benefit to using the legal crosswalks. Drivers do not stop for people in crosswalks, and the police do not seem to ticket people who refuse to yield to pedestrians. In fact, in some cases, it is actually more dangerous to cross at an intersection with a marked crosswalk because there are cars coming from multiple directions and turning. At least if one crosses mid-street one is less likely to encounter people turning unexpectedly into the crosswalk. If pedestrian rights were strengthened and enforced, there would be fewer deaths and fewer driver complaints about pedestrians crossing illegally.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 24, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I have been a professional driver since 1974. I have watched the majority of the american public including police officers fall out of the habit of signaling their intent while driving their lethal weapon (using their turn signals before moving right to left or turning at intersections or corners. As for pedestrians and people on bikes they dont see the turn signals flashing on the front of motor vehicles so they continue to walk or ride.. Everything happens in a split second. the drivers in the motor vehicles are not allowing that vital extra reaction time that would save a lot of lives and stop a lot of crashes and road run offs. Cars and trucks are lethal weapons and should be considered as such. They cannot continue to be driven all over the roads, going to the right or maybe to the left or maybe turning here or turning there, without proper warning to drivers and pedestrians. I have seen numerous intersection crashes caused by cars and trucks turning without signaling, scuffling to the lane they want to be in without giving any notice. For the law enforcement communities in our country to continue to ignore the importance of signaling ones intent allowing extra reaction time for anyone nearby is absolutely criminal

Posted by: Heather G. Derusha | March 29, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company