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Mixed Results at Crosswalk

A blog reader suggested I check out the new crosswalk set up by the District Department of Transportation to enhance pedestrian safety on Brentwood Road.


New Brentwood Road crosswalk. (Thomson)

Here's how the reader described it:

"It USED to be nearly impossible to cross Brentwood road near the DMV during rush hour. This is a very frequently used crosswalk from a neighborhood to go through the Home Depot parking lot and to the Metro. For a while, we actually had a police officer every morning to help us cross."

"Now - a compliment to DDOT! The new crosswalk button with flashing lights is AMAZING. I've never seen anything like it in the District. It works incredibly well."

I walked over and tried it on Thursday morning. What I like best is that the District is trying new ways to make walking safer. What I learned was that this particular method isn't perfect.


Hit button for flashing lights.

The crosswalk itself is quite visible, and has prominent signs alerting drivers that they must stop for pedestrians in the crossing. As the commenter noted, this is a most logical place to get serious about safety. Home Depot is on one side of the four-lane road and the Department of Motor Vehicles office is on the other, in a small shopping center.

What makes the setup unusual is that on either side of Brentwood, a walker can hit a red button that sets amber lights flashing on either side of the crossing.

Traffic should stop. Often it does. Sometimes, I found, it doesn't. On the east side, the DMV side, is a bus stop. When I hit the button, a Metrobus was just pulling up to the bus stop to pickup and discharge passengers.

crossing%20amber.jpg Works for this walker. (Thomson)

I waited a couple of seconds, then walked cautiously in front of the stopped bus as the amber lights flashed. A truck roared through the second lane just in front of me. The driver had not slowed, not for the flashing ambers, not out of caution in passing a stopped bus, not to check the crosswalk.

The vehicles approaching from the northbound side, which may have a better view of the crossing as they descend a slight hill, did stop and allow me through.

crossing%20anyway.jpg Some don't use it. (Thomson)

I waited around for about 20 minutes to watch what others did. Some people use the crosswalk but don't bother to hit the red button that starts the lights flashing. Some ignore the crosswalk altogether and cross at midblock. Others used the crosswalk effectively, hitting the button, waiting for the lights -- making sure the vehicles actually stopped -- then crossing.

Most drivers did stop for the pedestrians, whether they used the lights or not. It's best to follow the directions at the crossing to the letter:
1. Push button to alert motorist.
2. Wait for vehicles to stop.
3. Cross carefully.
4. Thank the driver.

Yes, I think even that last one helps, and I saw one pedestrian do it by waving. But my experience told me that instruction No. 2 was particularly useful. Don't let the lighting lull you into a false sense of security. It takes a while to change drivers' behavior.

[Join me at 1 p.m. for an online discussion of all our local transportation issues. If you'd like to submit a question or comment before we start, use this link.]

By Robert Thomson  |  May 19, 2008; 6:36 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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