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Traffic Calming Program Begins in District

Some people who care about saving lives on D.C. streets got together at Fort Reno Park this morning to launch a campaign called Pace Car.

So far, they've gotten 400 drivers to sign pledges that include the following phrases:
-- "I will drive within the posted speed limit on city streets."
-- "I will not be pressured by others' impatience to drive above the posted speed limit."

Pace Car decal.gif Pace Car program window decal. (WABA)

If you drive in the city, you know these are bold steps. Traveling to the press conference, I took Military Road, where the speed limit is the District's standard 25 mph for neighborhood streets. It looked like half the drivers were honoring the numerous signs and sticking to the limit.

So what do the pledge signers get in exchange? It's a sticker to place on the vehicle's back window, and it says, "DC Neighborhood Pace Car, 25 MPH."

I admire the safety initiative, which is a combined effort of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and the District Department of Transportation with money from the federal Safe Routes to School program, but you can't help but wonder what it says about us: We've gotten to the point where the driver behind needs to know why the driver ahead is obeying the speed limit on a residential street?

Experience says, Yes, we have gotten to that point, and not just in the District but throughout the Washington region.

"We just all need to slow down," said Andrew Solberg, commander for the Second District of the D.C. police department. He noted that street safety was a top issue for residents and therefore a top priority for his officers. But the speeders outnumber them.

So under this program, said Jim Sebastian of the District Department of Transportation, "Neighborhood people are going to set the pace."

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who represents Ward 3, noted that there are many aspects to street safety, including police enforcement and putting more paint and signs where they're needed to alert motorists, bikers and pedestrians. But this program also is part of the solution, she said: Residents assuming control over public behavior in their neighborhoods. She and others reminded us that a first grader was killed in a pedestrian accident this week.

Preventing injuries and deaths is the most important part of what the safe driving volunteers will be doing, but there's also an element of tone-setting. People would get out more if they felt safer on the streets.

"A lot of people want to get out and ride but think the roads are too dangerous," said Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. "Roadway safety begins with each one of us."

John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic, who was at the press conference to show support for the program, noted what's wonderful and what's challenging about launching a program like this: "It relies on common courtesy."

By Robert Thomson  |  April 25, 2007; 12:29 PM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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