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Renewed Focus on Safety

The region's transportation and law enforcement officials are about to launch their 2008 Street Smart campaign for pedestrian safety. It's both an educational and enforcement effort, directed at pedestrians and bikers as well as motorists.

The campaign, which began in 2002, responds to these sad facts: On average in our region, about six pedestrians are injured each day, and a pedestrian is killed every 4.4 days. Pedestrians account for a quarter of traffic fatalities

What's your pedestrian safety tip? Many safety improvements are visible on our roads, including better crosswalks and traffic calming methods. But here's a letter I got from a reader illustrating things we can do to protect ourselves, without waiting for the government or the police to take action on our behalf.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
When it is dark or during inclement weather, it is quite an achievement that the Metro bus drivers are able to simultaneously maintain their situational awareness, and spot customers waiting to be picked up.

I have come up with a technique that gives the bus drivers an early awareness that I'm at a bus stop waiting to be picked up, and several bus drivers have commented that this is an incredibly effective way to alert them that I am there:

When I see the bus approaching, I open up my cell phone and wave it toward the bus. This can be seen for quite some distance. I've also begun to use this same technique when crossing roads that lack crosswalks -- I have been amazed that cars have actually stopped some distance away to let me cross.

In this day and age, where so many pedestrians carry cell phones on them, this is an incredible safety device to let drivers be aware of your presence. This technique bears advocating. (I wish I could patent it, and get a penny every time someone does it.)
Rick Ballard
Alexandria

By Robert Thomson  |  March 5, 2008; 6:16 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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Comments

I try to make eye contact with the drivers who are in a position to mow me down. If I can make eye contact with them, it typically means they are paying enough attention not to actually hit me. I then try to give them a smile or wave to indicate that I appreciate their consideration.

As much as possible, I avoid intersections where cars do a lot of red-light running (such as the Colesville Road-Georgia Avenue intersection in beautiful downtown Silver Spring), because the red-light running decreases the amount of time available for pedestrians to cross and often results in pedestrians being in the middle of the intersection when the light changes.

At the particular intersection named above, the frequent presence of completely heedless jaywalkers also ratchets up the tension. Don't be a heedless jaywalker, blithely ignoring the right-of-way of the cars coming at you! That said, sometimes a little strategic jaywalking is the best way to avoid a problematic intersection.

Rick Ballard's idea is a good one, but it would require me to carry my cell phone around more, a tactic that I do not endorse for non-traffic-safety-related reasons.

Posted by: Lindemann | March 5, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I've done the cell phone trick many times while waiting for a bus, especially on streets that are not well lit. I used to carry a small flashlight (a mag lite) that I would use to alert bus drivers as well (also a good safety thing to have if you have a dark walk home). Never used the cell phone for crossing streets but that's not a bad idea.

Posted by: Laura | March 5, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

On Monday morning I was driving down Virginia Avenue going from the Watergate across town to my office. That road has two uncontrolled crosswalks (at which drivers must stop for pedestrians). I noted two things--first, the sun was in my eyes, making it very difficult to see, and second, both of the uncontrolled crosswalks are on either end of the underpass where Virginia dips below 23d Street (i.e., at points where many drivers are speeding). Seems to me that the District could take steps to improve the visibility of these crosswalks. For example, Alexandria recently installed flashing yellow lights at a crosswalk on Stevenson Avenue--the lights line either side of the crosswalk (sort of like Botts dots) and they flash yellow when the pedestrian presses a button so as to make drivers aware that someone's crossing there. It would be very helpful if DC would do this on Virginia Avenue. (I made the same drive last Friday evening and I noticed how hard it would be to see pedestrians there at night, especially since so many people around here wear all dark clothing.) Seeing the flashing yellow lights up ahead would probably cause most drivers to slow down, even if only because they think there's been a wreck.

(The other thing about the idea for flashing lights is that it would help OTHER drivers realize why you're stopping. I stopped to yield to a pedestrian at one of those crosswalks on Monday and noticed in my rearview that the driver approaching from behind me was awfully late to slow down.)

The crosswalk on 7th Street SW just below the VRE overpass is another place where this sort of thing would be ideal, especially because there you have people running to catch the trains.

On the other hand, let's recognize that pedestrians need to learn to obey the rules, too. If I have a green light and you have a don't walk sign, don't step off the sidewalk in front of me, because I'm not looking for you. Don't step out at midblock from between parked cars--walk your sorry rear end down to the corner and cross legally. The fact that DC law says "Drivers yield to pedestrians" doesn't mean that it's OK for you to walk wherever and whenever you want. The driver is NOT required to yield to a pedestrian who is facing a "Don't Walk" sign when the driver has a green light, for example. Likewise, over near Memorial Bridge, bicycle riders on the sidewalk along the south side of the Lincoln Memorial have a STOP sign. You're not entitled just to race out into the crosswalk and expect drivers to stop if they don't have adequate time to do so. (On Monday morning some cyclist was arguing with a cabbie there and they were blocking the whole road....wish I had seen what had sparked the argument.)

What it all boils down to is that I'm happy to yield to a pedestrian who is entitled to the right-of-way, but I expect the same courtesy in return. Pedestrians and cyclists like to talk about the protection of their rights. Well, part of having a right is recognizing the responsibility that comes with it, and in this case the responsibility is to recognize when YOU have to yield to vehicular traffic.

Posted by: Rich | March 5, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Very well said, Rich. I agree with just about everything he said.

Those crosswalks on Virginia Avenue are especially problematic, and I tend to always slow down when driving through that underpass in anticipation of a pedestrian that I might not be able to see who still has the legal right of way. Part of the problem is the fence in the median. The fence slats, when viewed from a narrow angle, completely obscure the view through the fence to the crosswalk on the other side. There could be a pedestrian there that I can't see until they are already starting to cross in front of me. Therefore I always approach in the right lane...which involves a lane change when heading west because anyone who drives that stretch frequently knows to avoid the right lane right where the underpass begins because of that "mega-pothole".

A great deal of responsibility is placed on the drivers and pedestrians, but bad engineering can lead to low compliance rates. Putting a marked crosswalk at an unsignalized intersection along Connecticut Avenue is extending an open invitation to not yield. These intersections could have signals added like the one at Connecticut and Morrison Street NW which operat on flash mode normally (flash yellow on Connecticut and red on Morrison), and then go to all red with no turn on red prohibitions the moment a pedestrian pushes a button.

Another example with poor engineering is the intersection of 24th Street NW and Connecticut. Walking south along the west side of Connecticut, first you cross the southbound right turn "ramp" from Connecticut to 24th, small triangular median and then you cross northbound 24th Street. In order to give cars a green arrow to turn from Connecticut to 24th, pedestrians are only allowed to cross southbound 24th Street when Connecticut has a red light. But peds are only allowed to cross northbound 24th Street when COnnecticut has a green light. That is poor engineering to force pedestrians to wait at either one or the other, and in fact force many of them to wait the length of an entire cycle just to cross a lousy 2 lane side street! The violation rate for peds disobeying the walk/don't walk is incredibly high there. Car drivers complain when a light turns green just as the next one 100 feet away turns red...engineers shouldn't be treating peds like that either.

Pedestrians also need to understand the meaning of the various traffic control devices and the implications of violating them. For example, just because the opposing street gets a red light doesn't mean the walk sign will come on...in many cases there are left turn phases on the parallel street which use green arrows and therefore cannot have conflicting pedestrian traffic.

However the Federal Highway Administration is planning on changing the meaning of the flashing hand symbol to make it more user friendly. Right now, the meaning of the flashing hand states that pedestrians may not start crossing, even though many of those crosswalks have countdown timer displays and pedestrians know they can cross fast enough to get across before the timer expires. The proposed changes to the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) would legally allow pedestrians to start crossing on the flashing hand symbol so long as they make it across before the countdown reaches zero. It is safe for them to do this (since adjacent streets have no different signal indications when peds have white person vs. red flashing hand), the flashing hand was developed before timers existed, and the rules for timing the flashing hand assume slow elderly pedestrians that need a lot of time to cross and thus need to be prevented from entering before us normal folks do.

Posted by: Woodley Park | March 5, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Rich, this is a free country, laws are there to be broken.

Posted by: bad pedestrian | March 5, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

"Pedestrians also need to understand the meaning of the various traffic control devices and the implications of violating them. For example, just because the opposing street gets a red light doesn't mean the walk sign will come on...in many cases there are left turn phases on the parallel street which use green arrows and therefore cannot have conflicting pedestrian traffic."

14th & G NW is a prime example of this. Southbound 14th has an extended green to allow for left-turn traffic, yet I regularly see people step out anyway against the light. I'm waiting to see a pedestrian get thrown some distance after getting hit by a speeding car or truck. (Hmmmm, perhaps we could start a "Get There" betting pool on how far a pedestrian would fly through the air.....)


"Rich, this is a free country, laws are there to be broken."

Hey, I'll admit that I fairly routinely ignore speed limit laws on some roads (although I rigidly obey them on some others....residential streets, for example). But my point is--don't complain that drivers "aren't yielding" to you if you walk out at midblock where you're not supposed to be crossing. Last summer I was in St. Petersburg, Russia, and nobody crossed illegally. I asked our guide about it and she said that drivers won't slow down for illegal pedestrians because the pedestrians aren't supposed to be there, and as a result people know not to walk against the light. Works for me.

Posted by: Rich | March 5, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

illegal pedestrians should be run over more, too many drivers are sniveling cowards

Posted by: run them down | March 5, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

"illegal pedestrians should be run over more, too many drivers are sniveling cowards"

What a cruel thing to say. How many people have you killed? I'm pretty sure you would feel pretty bad if you ever killed anyone by purposely running them down. Feel even worse when you are sitting in a cell in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

Posted by: Laura | March 6, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I have a flasher that I wear when I'm walking in the dark.

The best thing that I ever did was buy a white coat. They are much more visible in the dark and low-light hours.

Downtown Silver Spring is dangerous for pedestrians.

Posted by: RoseG | March 7, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

It would be much easier not to walk against the light if the lights gave you enough time to get across the street.

Posted by: RoseG | March 7, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Rich - Amen to your comment about 14th and G NW. I work in Metro Square and just this morning witnessed a bicyclist who saw northbound 14th Street get a red and started crossing right in front of a southbound car turning left. A disaster was narrowly averted. Amazingly, the bicyclist acted like the aggrieved party.

Bottom line, everyone needs to pay more attention. I don't know how to make that happen. . .

Posted by: CJ | March 7, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Not sure where Dr. G. has been as of late, but for those taking metro late on Saturday night a heads up. The metro will be losing an hour of sleep just like all of us so the system will be closing an hour early. Last trains will depart metro center for Shady Grove and Vienna at 2:06 am.

Posted by: Laura | March 7, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Technically speaking, they aren't closing an hour early. At 2:00 AM, the clocks jump to 3:00 AM. So the last trains will depart Metro Center for Shady Grove and Vienna at 3:06 AM as is normal for Saturdays...only 3:06 AM comes 7 minutes after 1:59 AM on this particular night.

Metro stayed open an extra hour last Fall for the very same reason.

Posted by: Woodley Park | March 7, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

"Metro stayed open an extra hour last Fall for the very same reason."

Yup. I just think it's easier to say thay are closing an hour early. Gets people in the mind that they have to leave an hour earlier than they usually would from the bar if they stay out real late.

Posted by: Laura | March 7, 2008 5:19 PM | Report abuse

To the person above who commented on the pedestrian signal at Morrison Street and Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase. I think this is a great light, especially in areas where there is heavy pedestrian traffic and commercial activity.

The light seems to be well used on weekends, but the rest of the time (at least when I am driving through) it simply flashes yellow, thus not impeding the Connecticut Avenue flow to Maryland.

I can't wait for the District to put these in other areas, like 14th Street near the DCUSA development, or in Cleveland Park (both CT and WI could use them).

The bummer is that it doesn't seem like DDOT is interested in carrying through on this kinds of approaches to pedestrian safety, at least based on articles in the Northwest Current.

Mr. Mayor, are you listening? People (on foot) like these solutions. Please encourage your staff to keep them and put more of them in where they are needed.

The lives you save are the residents of this city.

Posted by: DC Resident | March 8, 2008 9:34 PM | Report abuse

turn the illegal pedestrians into speedbumps

Posted by: Mark | March 11, 2008 5:23 PM | Report abuse

drill holes in their heads

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Posted by: dkyao lbcpatym | March 23, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

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