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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.


New crosswalk system on Brentwood Road NE. (Thomson)

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.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 12, 2008; 8:21 AM ET
Categories:  Safety , Transportation Politics  
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I gave up on pedestrian safety when I noticed the number of jaywalking cripples and do-nothing cops.

Run them all over.

Posted by: Penny | August 13, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

You mention that you can't put a signal at every intersection, yet DDOT did just that in Chevy Chase. The unique pedestrian signal has been successful in protecting pedestrians without a negative impact on Connecticut Avenue traffic.

The ANC has requested the signal be converted to a red-yellow-green light, putting three signals in very close proximity.

Why not just make this light like the one suggested in the blog entry, where it remains dark unless a pedestrian pushes a button for it?

This seems like a much better solution than a red-yellow-green light in that place.

Posted by: Luke | August 13, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I do stop for pedestrians at UNCONTROLLED intersections. However I have no patience for peds who start to cross a multilane street against the flashing red "don't walk" sign even at the 2 second countdown! On multilane streets, peds block traffic waiting to make a turn. Do they have any idea how much pollution is being spewed by all those idling cars and trucks unable to make a right or left turn because of their attitude toward drivers?

As Penny said above, RUN THEM OVER or at least push them out of your way!!!

Posted by: Rich | August 14, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Rich-- Are you blaming pedestrians for air pollution? The most congested crosswalks are around Metro stations. The people walking are using transit--not private motor vehicles. So don't blame them for dumb intersection design.

What the hell is the big hurry anyway? You are in a city, so as a driver, you should expect some inconvenience.

Posted by: mark | August 14, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Mark is right, blame the road, not the criminals.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 15, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

wipe them out, all of them

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

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