The Future of Pedestrian Safety
The ward meetings on the District's pedestrian safety plan can be hard to find. They often are in church basements, which some of us find after rattling every other doorway to the institution.
That may fit the profile of the plan itself: We've tried many approaches to road safety, but some people are willing to keep at it until we find the right way in.
George Branyan, the District's pedestrian safety coordinator, has been presenting the draft safety plan at these sessions. On Monday night, he made his final presentation at the Church of the Nazarene on 16th Street NW in Ward 4, with Council member Muriel Bowser.
Branyan focused listeners' attention on a set of counterintuitive statistics about walking and driving: Studies show that as wide roadways become more congested, pedestrians are more likely to get hit in marked crosswalks than in unmarked crosswalks.
There are several reasons this can occur, but does it mean we should just go ahead and remove marked crosswalks? Branyan's not arguing for that. He's arguing that paint isn't a pedestrian safety plan. It takes a lot more effort and ingenuity to keep people safe on the streets.
The D.C. plan picks out eight corridors -- one per ward -- that would get special attention over the next decade, but the plan also rethinks the District's engineering policies and procedures for street reconstruction.
Among the approaches:
-- One problem with marked crosswalks on multi-lane streets is that a pedestrian may begin to cross once the vehicle in the right lane stops. What about the vehicle approaching in the next lane? In the District, it's illegal to pass a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian crossing. But is the second driver heeding the situation? Can that driver see the pedestrian? Can the pedestrian see the second driver?
One solution is to set the stop line farther back from the crosswalk. After the car in the right lane stops, the driver in the second lane still would have a clear view of the pedestrian stepping out. And the pedestrian would have a clear view of the second driver.
Nothing guarantees the second driver is going to do the right thing and stop, but at least if the driver doesn't stop, the pedestrian still have a good enough view of the approaching danger.
-- Forget the notion that people are going to walk 100 feet to reach a crosswalk where they have to look for a break in traffic and then run across the street. Why would anyone want to do that when they could have jaywalked where they were in the first place with the same result?
Design the places where you really want pedestrians to cross with enough safeguards so that it's worth their time to walk over to them.
-- What safeguards? You can't put a full traffic signal at ever intersection. The city would grind to a halt. But you can reduce the crossing distances by pushing out sidewalks and by building pedestrian refuges in the middle of the streets. You can post more attention-getting signs for drivers. And you can install partial signals, which remain dark until a pedestrian pushes the button to activate a sequence of yellow and red lights.
All these ideas are pretty cheap, as traffic solutions go. One of the cheapest: Those bright signs that say, "DC Law: Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk." When they're in the middle of the street, they get knocked down in a hurry don't they?
Neighborhoods almost always ask to have them put back right away, Branyan says. Why? Because they work. Many drivers do slow down and pay attention when they see them, and walkers feel safer.
Up next: The District Department of Transportation will review the external and internal feedback it's getting on the plan and create a final version. While the plan does not require D.C. Council approval, several council members have said that given its scope and the need for funding, they'd like to see the city's legislature sign off on it after holding a hearing.
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