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D.C. Moves For Street Safety

At a forum last night on pedestrian safety, D.C. Council member Jim Graham talked about the transportation bill now before the council that expand and empower the District's force of traffic control officers. Their numbers would grow from 43 to 63 and they would have the authority to stop and ticket vehicles and pedestrians who violated traffic laws.

Traffic Monitor.jpg Traffic control officer directs drivers and pedestrians. (Robert Thomson)

Both the traffic control officers and the school crossing guards would become part of the District Department of Transportation. The officers now work for the Department of Public Works and the crossing guards are part of the D.C. police department. All of them would get raises.

These are all good moves, suggesting that the District is committed to addressing concerns expressed by commuters and D.C. residents alike about traffic safety.

Nothing, though, was as effective at getting the attention of the audience at this forum on the progress of the D.C. pedestrian master plan as the comments offered by Lelia C. Walker, a crossing guard in Ward 5 who has spent almost a quarter of a century protecting the city's school children. She talked about drivers who act as though they are in sole possession of the road, even when passing through a school zone.

She called for more signs to alert them, but said signs alone aren't enough to deter bad driving and called for more enforcement of the traffic safety laws. Both things, she said, have been hard to get.

The pedestrian plan project intends to identify safety corridors -- the 10 to 15 places in the city that need the greatest attention -- and focus engineering, education and enforcement resources on them.

When I was looking at a map of the hot zones identified by the study and thinking it might be a swell idea to use that as a blueprint for planning the locations of the cameras that enforce speeding and red light laws. You can look at another project map here that shows pedestrian accidents by location.

The project team also did an online survey to gauge concerns about pedestrian safety, and you can see the recently published results of that here. If you want to contact the project team, which expects to present a draft report in the fall, this link will guide you to an online form, as well as to some names and phone numbers.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 4, 2007; 7:55 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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While I'm all in favor of more traffic enforcement (I find it amazing that MPD does not have a dedicated traffic unit), I worry about the wisdom of giving traffic control officers this responsibility, especially as it applies to vehicles. Any law enforcement personnel will tell you that high on their list of most dangerous actions are traffic stops--you just don't know what you're going to find. Traffic control officers have limited training and are unarmed. To me, it would make much more sense to leave the current traffic control officer program intact and add real police officers to a traffic unit within MPD.

Posted by: Brian | May 4, 2007 9:19 AM | Report abuse

"[T]hey would have the authority to stop and ticket vehicles AND PEDESTRIANS who violated traffic laws."

The capitalized phrase is very important. If you walk out against the light in front of an oncoming truck, you deserve to get hit!!!! I know I sound like a stuck record, but the media want to demonize the drivers while ignoring the fact that pedestrians routinely ignore their obligations in how to cross the roads safely.

Unfortunately, I think the odds of the District ever actually enforcing the laws as they apply to pedestrians, as opposed to going on a witch-hunt against drivers, are about as good as the odds of the Nationals winning this year's World Series. Actually, scratch that. The Nationals stand a far better chance.

Posted by: Rich | May 4, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

thanks for the update!

Posted by: jj | May 4, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Rich, I've been ticketed TWICE in the past couple years for jaywalking, once by MPD on L Street NW and once by a Capitol Police officer over by the Rayburn Building (you'd think once would have been enough, but I am an old dog and new tricks elude me.) I have coleagues who have not been ticketed but who have been warned in recent months. I don't know how these folks avoided tickets - when I was stopped I was courteous and apologetic, but got nothing but a cold stare and the dreaded ticket.

Posted by: Karen | May 4, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Wow, that's the first time I've heard of that. Earlier this week at 7th & Pennsylvania (the intersection that is supposedly so horribly dangerous due to aggressive drivers, if you believe the DC government and the media) I saw a fat pedestrian waddle out in mid-block against the light in front of a stopped cop car. The cop didn't do anything, of course. Maybe he felt anyone hitting this pedestrian would just bounce off....

Posted by: Rich | May 4, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

" the media want to demonize the drivers while ignoring the fact that pedestrians routinely ignore their obligations in how to cross the roads safely."

Many pedestrians in urban areas act like they own the streets. They are particularly nasty in New York.

Back to DC., Just last night I encountered a woman crossing E Capitol St in the middle of the block with 2 small children after dark. She looked at me like "I dare you to hit me". All I could think of was how ignorant she looked setting such a bad example for those kids.

Posted by: ceefer66 | May 4, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Rich, every single time I've legally tried to cross the street in D.C., I've seen or been personally faced with a driver trying to bore through the crosswalk, using their cars to bully and intimidate pedestrians. I've lived here 24 years, I've been a pedestrian most of that time, and I cannot think of a time where I have not seen this kind of behavior from drivers. They should certainly crack down on jaywalking, especially at busy roads and intersections, but spare me your outrage. Drivers get vilified when they act boorish and domineering; it just so happens that that occurs quite often within D.C.

Posted by: A pedestrian | May 4, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

i have to drive down 14th street on my way home from downtown. there are people crossing wherever they feel like it, and what should be a ten minute drive turns into a half hour because of these idiots. the drivers aren't the problems. the pedestrians are.

Posted by: People R. Morons | May 4, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"every single time I've legally tried to cross the street in D.C., I've seen or been personally faced with a driver trying to bore through the crosswalk, using their cars to bully and intimidate pedestrians."

You might want to review the definition of legal. This blanket statement is ridiculous.

Posted by: R. U. A. Stupidone 2 | May 4, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Was there any mention of streets such as Sherman -- which is just considered a by pass to other clogged streets. Residents must dodge cars who rarely obey the posted limit.

Posted by: Richard (not "Rich") | May 4, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

"but spare me your outrage."

Nope, sorry, I've had enough. I make a point of waiting for the pedestrians when it is their turn, but when that sign changes to "Don't Walk," park your arse on the sidewalk and wait your turn because that's the time for the drivers to go. You don't get to insist that the drivers play by the rules if you refuse to do so yourself--but the converse is equally true, and there are certainly plenty of drivers at fault as well. My point is that BOTH SIDES are to blame here and that it's time to stop giving the uppity pedestrians a free pass.

Posted by: Rich | May 4, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry you drivers are so lazy that you can't even watch where you're going :(

Posted by: Anonymous | May 4, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Why should drivers have any rights? All they do is pollute the environment and run people over. Drivers should get ticketed just for existing.

Posted by: Green | May 4, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I think "Green" is the poster formerly known as "BIKE_OR_DIE" reincarnated.

Posted by: Rich | May 4, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I am amazed at the peds who dont even look when crossing.. not an insignificant group btw. I agree with the writer that both drivers and peds need to play by the rules. Jay walking and other negative ped behaviors are rampant in this area as well as drivers who think they are Moses and that the sea parts for them. At times I sense a real provacative attitude as if some like to cause a confrontation ...or worse.

Posted by: Name: | May 4, 2007 12:28 PM | Report abuse

If pedestrians were intelligent enough to drive they wouldn't be walking.

Posted by: Green | May 4, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"If pedestrians were intelligent enough to drive they wouldn't be walking."

Given that I use a wheelchair, should I be offended? ;)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 4, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

there is still a prevailing attitude that car drivers have more 'rights' than pedestrians. observe how few drivers stop for crosswalks or try going into one of those without stop signs or lights--where the law says drivers MUST stop for pedestrians--and observe not only how few stop but the nasty words yelled at pedestrians. or look at how much more space cars get than people. or watch how drivers yell offensive remarks at people trying to walk. just look at the comments in this column. I am not a car hater--I drive one myself. but it is clear that pedestrians are a lot better for every aspect of life here than cars, so the hostile attitude toward them on the part of readers, the city, cops and drivers is appalling to me.

Posted by: Richard F | May 4, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Just so we're clear, that was a different Green up there, trying to insult pedestrians. Driving has clearly atrophied not only that person's limbs, but also that person's brain. It's so heartbreaking to see someone who no longer has the mental capabilities to comprehend that only idiots and the truly desperate would ever choose to drive in a city.

Posted by: Green | May 4, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm primarily a pedestrian and fully agree that both sides are to blame. Many drivers are in a hurry and will run red lights and try to turn through pedestrians in crosswalks; many pedestrians will cross against a signal through temporarily stopped traffic, cross in the middle of a block rather than at a corner, or enter the crosswalk on a flashing "Don't Walk;" many of both groups are distracted as they walk/drive with cellphones glued to their ears.

I'd like to see DDOT experiment with giving vehicles and pedestrians their own crossing times: a "Walk" signal for all crosswalks while all vehicles have red lights and "Don't Walk" for all crosswalks while vehicles have green lights. Of course the only way to make a dent is through strict and consistent enforcement for both drivers and walkers.

Full disclosure: I do jaywalk at crosswalks when there is absolutely no oncoming traffic. If you're going to jaywalk, people, at least be smart and considerate about it.

Posted by: Chris | May 4, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Let's just move the capitol to another place. When they created DC, Maryland was just giving away some unneeded swampland. There is more unneeded swampland elsewhere.

Posted by: Scott | May 4, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Geez. Is it possible in this city to ever freaking talk about pedestrian safety, sidewalks, or crosswalks without it degenerating into a Cars vs. Pedestrians rant. It's almost as tired as any column or post about bikes that immediately turns into a bikes vs. cars debate. So much for intelligent discussion

so bored....

Posted by: Steve | May 4, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Intelligent discussion? On the internet?

Surely you jest.

Posted by: to Steve | May 4, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Jaywalking should be no more illegal than making a right on red. In both instances you are making a determination that there is enough space for you to go despite the fact that you do not have the legal right-of-way. Why one is legal while the other is not makes no sense.

Posted by: Reid | May 4, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Decidedly, daring drivers do deserve disciplining. Possibly parallel for pedestrians who perversely pass perpendicular to the prevalent preference of Passats, Pintos and Police.

Posted by: Al Literate | May 4, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

"I think "Green" is the poster formerly known as "BIKE_OR_DIE" reincarnated"

It surely looks like it. That statement is certainly stupid enough to come from that source.

Posted by: ceefer66 | May 4, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

GREEN says:

"It's so heartbreaking to see someone who no longer has the mental capabilities to comprehend that only idiots and the truly desperate would ever choose to drive in a city."

Then I suppose the streets are just for decoration? Or exclusively for bikes, pedestrians, "mass" transit and whomever else has the blessing of the holier-than-though who count their toilet paper sheets?

My friend, YOU appear to be one of the "idiots" who want to take us back in time.

Now if you're soooo "green" and sooo "concerned about the environment", why not do the Earth a favor and save the electricity and resources you're using up to post silly nonsesne?

Posted by: ceefer66 | May 4, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Wow. This forum degenerated fast.

I both drive and walk in DC. And both drivers and pedestrians routinely break the law.

The reason? For 40 years MPD has not given tickets. Period. They are hermetically sealed in their vehicles. I've literally seen people run red lights in front of MPD and not get even a second look, much less a ticket. Ditto for moms dragging multiple kids into traffic mid-block.

What we need is real traffic enforcement.

Posted by: Hillman | May 4, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

What would start to help is that the police themselves learn the rules and live by them, such as sticking to the speed limit, stopping at red lights (yes, even before making that right turn on red), and not blocking the crosswalk with their cruisers while they chat on a cell phone. Maybe after the police comply with the law they will start to enforce it.

Posted by: Laszlo in DC | May 4, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

looking at the tooldesign map, I can see that it is incomplete since there is no accident posted at the intersection of Connecticut Ave & Fessenden Street, NW where I was hit while in the cross walk with the cross signal last year (and the driver was ticketed).

Posted by: ken | May 4, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Face it, drivers, bike riders and pedestrians are all part of the problem. Until people admit that their S does not stink we will not move forward. You do not speed through school zones, you do not jaywalk or take your time crossing the street and you do not weave your bike in and out of traffic like it is a game. When you do and something happens you are the only one to blame.

Posted by: Tired of it all | May 4, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Reid thanks for showing how much you do not understand physics. If I turn right on red infront of another car. I may get hit and cause damage to myself, my car and the other car and driver. If we are both going 25 mph chances are it will be a minor accident. However, if you jaywalk and I hit you at 25 mph, you cause damage to my car, but I kill or seriously injure you. Now do you get it?

Posted by: Tired of it all | May 4, 2007 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Why I hate to walk around DC? Consistently, unavoidable cigarette smoke blown into my face.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 4, 2007 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Maybe if the Suburbanites would slow their self down, i'm sorry you have a 90 minute commute home but you need to honor rules of any city and give way to peds.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 4, 2007 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Rich said, "If you walk out against the light in front of an oncoming truck, you deserve to get hit!!!!"

AMEN! ALEXANDRIA JAYWALKERS, are you READING??? I'll add to that: If you walk out in front of my car against the light, don't you dare give me a look of contempt when I honk at you. Count your lucky stars I slowed down for you.

This is a huge problem. I ALWAYS look for and yield to pedestrians legally in the crosswalk. Unfortunately, that's a rare sight these days! Bad pedestrians! BAD! And don't whine about how other drivers may be rude when you are in the crosswalk legally. That's life. Look out for yourself and be careful. But most importantly, CROSS LEGALLY. That way even if you are hit by an idiot driver, your arse is protected legally.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | May 4, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

They're comtemplating on giving those idiots they hire as TCOs the power to ticket people??? Lord help us!

Posted by: Chris | May 4, 2007 6:29 PM | Report abuse

They're like one step up from parking ticket writers. To just give that kind of authority and judgment to people without proper training is a big mistake. For one thing, I don't believe this city is going to properly train and evaluate candidates before giving them the power to unnecessarily tie up the courts and inconveniencing those getting undeserved tickets from poor judgment calls in the same way many parking enforcement persons give tickets. This really should be maybe a first year police officers assignment if this authority is necessary.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2007 2:24 AM | Report abuse

I have lived in DC 27 years, mostly walking, and the situation just seems to get worse every year. Drivers are more aggressive and hostile, traffic planners and personnel seem to be clueless about pedestrian needs and, most important, the DC government just does not seem to take the fact that drivers are routinely committing crimes against pedestrians seriously. Failing to stop and give the right of way to a pedestrian is a crime (a misdemeanor) in DC (see Title 50 of the DC code) and is punishable by a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. Everything I read about the "Pedestrian Master Plan" and the other handwringing by DC government officials seems to ignore this fact. As of 2 years ago, DC had never arrested a driver for committing that crime, and rarely ticketed. Ticketing appears to have increased but it is not enough. I know there have been arrests of drivers who have killed pedestrians, but that too is not enough. I don't know whether they've started arresting for failing to stop and give the right of way recently and that's what they need to do -- put the worst offenders in jail before they kill, and publicize it. (I've asked MPD more recently about arrests for failing to stop and give the right of way, but was told to file a FOIA (and did, about six weeks ago) and have received no word yet. (As an aside, MPD apparently does not keep statistics on this crime readily available. It is beyond me why I can easily look up the number of parking tickets issued and "thefts from auto," but not driver assaults on pedestrians.)) Impounding their cars also should be an option. If DC can put idiots who write on walls in jail and take away their "art" supplies, they shouldn't treat these criminals any better.

This issue has really hit home for me recently because, beyond my own experience jumping out of the way of drivers and the various reports on the news about pedestrians killed, a friend of mine was hit by a driver in crosswalk last January. She had the right of way -- and he was ticketed. She was fortunately not badly hurt -- she's agile and got out of his way -- but she spent most of the night in an ER and was limping on the foot he ran over for several weeks. He, on the other hand, was allowed to drive away after he was ticketed. That just doesn't seem right. To add insult to injury, she has still not been reimbursed her out-of-pocket medical expenses. When she finally tracked down his insurance information (he did not respond to her phone calls requesting it and the police officer who ticketed him did not put it on the police report -- which, by the way, it also took her several calls to obtain), the insurance company told her it would not pay her $250 medical deductible because Maryland insurance law (he was a Maryland driver) allows them to exclude non-Maryland resident pedestrian from PIP coverage (which is what pays the out-of-pocket medical bills). We looked up Maryland law and, unfortunately, the insurance company appears to be correct legally. That now puts her in the position of settling any pain and suffering claim (which they apparently will pay) now or foregoing reimbursement of her medical expenses so far until she can be certain there are no residual effects. My friend has medical insurance, is smart and an attorney, and she fortunately can hold off making a decision. I can only think, though, that for someone without medical insurance or legal savvy, handling this situation would be extremely difficult. By the way, the man who hit my friend was a DC employee, leaving work. Perhaps the Council could consider requiring DC employees who drive to work to have insurance coverage for the medical expenses of the pedestrians they might hit.

Finally, yes, people can be idiots when they walk. But the distinction so many draw between drivers and pedestrians is a false one -- idiots are idiots no matter what they are doing. Idiots are much more dangerous to society when they have large metal weapons at their disposal.

Posted by: Myrna | May 5, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

How about four way red lights where all traffic stops and predestrians walk. I am a long time resident of DC, I drive and walk in the city. It seems that these up roars come only when someone is hit. How about enforcing the laws presently on the books,stiffer fines and penalties for drivers and pedestrians. Everyone complains about speed cameras but a picture is proof and a ticket hits where it hurts.The penalties are not strong enough. Place raised side walks and speed hills through out DC. People fly through DC because they can and drivers from MD and VA act as if they are driving on highways but in the city. Some pedestrians(play chicken with cars) step right out in traffic and act as if they dare you to hit them knowing that they are walking when they shouldn't. The "so called traffic guards" the district placed to ease and regulate the flow, at times cause more confusion downtown than anything because they try to assert authority they don't have.

Posted by: Space-C | May 5, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

"Reid thanks for showing how much you do not understand physics. If I turn right on red infront of another car. I may get hit and cause damage to myself, my car and the other car and driver. If we are both going 25 mph chances are it will be a minor accident. However, if you jaywalk and I hit you at 25 mph, you cause damage to my car, but I kill or seriously injure you. Now do you get it?"

Hey, here's some physics for you: you turn on red, huge car swerves to avoid you and smashes into a pedestrian. How's that for bodies in motion? Besides, if you only hit a car, you're still hitting a god damn car and causing an accident. Why should the city trust your judgement to make a right on red when it can cause a minor accident or a pedestrian death, but it doesn't trust the judgement of a pedestrian crossing against the red hand. And further, you know you drive over the speed limit each and every second you're on the road, so getting indignant about a pedestrian violating the law is hypocritical.

Posted by: Reid | May 6, 2007 12:45 AM | Report abuse

There is a pilot light at the intersection of Connecticut and Morrison Street in Chevy Chase DC. The light flashes yellow for the arterial traffic and red for Morrison. When a pedestrian pushes a button, the light changes, in synch with the lights at either neighboring intersection, to an all red condition. There are 'No Turns on solid Red" signs at the intersection.

It is a great light for pedestrians. The crossing Morrison traffic never receive a green light, but then again, the signal replaced a stop sign, so in reality, it was never an intersection that was heavily used for crossing traffic. The couple of times I have been up there, I have noticed pedestrians flocking to the intersection to use the light, rather than the lights at the adjoining streets.

DDOT should place lights like this at several spots I can think of around the city. As long as drivers pay attention to red lights, it is a great solution.

Posted by: to Space-C | May 6, 2007 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Half of all drivers fail the Lincoln Park Literacy Test. There are Right Turn On Green Arrow Only signs on East Capitol Street, but half the drivers ignore them.

Posted by: Mike Licht | May 6, 2007 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Myrna, thank you for your thoughtful post. I found it very calm, rational and enlightening. I too was hit by a Maryland DC gov't employee, though I was in my car. It took a lot - a lot - to get him to pay for my car, which he very nearly totaled.

Posted by: To Myrna | May 6, 2007 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Rich, you and many other posters here prove my theory that a significant number of Washingtonians are sociopaths, if not outright psychopaths. These are human beings that you are essentially arguing for the right to run over and murder. Do you hear yourself? Sure it's frustrating to have to wait two seconds for a person to cross your path, but do you really want to be responsible for killing someone? Maybe you do, so I'll put it in terms you'll understand which is how it affects your selfish viewpoint: hitting a person damages your car and costs a lot of money. So take 5 seconds to slow down and yield.

Posted by: watch out for Rich | May 9, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I've never run over anyone and do not intend to do so. But let me say this again: If the sign says "Don't Walk," you DO NOT walk. You have no right to enter the crosswalk (and you certainly have no right to cross at midblock). Period. Is something about that unclear to you?

Posted by: Rich | May 10, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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