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Streets Are for People, Too

When traffic experts talk about sharing the road, they don't mean just with other drivers. You'll hear more from them this week about pedestrian safety as the again launch the Street Smart campaign, but first, here's a street scene.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
As most folks know in our neighborhood, we've had three pedestrian deaths in the past year (it may even be in a shorter timeframe than that). Two of those were folks crossing in the crosswalk, though not at a light. One person was crossing against traffic. The local precinct has upped speed traps, but based on my experience, speed is not the issue. It's driver awareness that there are pedestrians.

I have a young daughter, and her grandmother and nanny are out with her every day; her grandmother tells me frequently about traffic that nearly hit them or others she's seen. Just last Thursday, we were walking south on Connecticut, crossing Ellicot Street on the west side. An SUV was parked away from the curb with its hazard lights blinking, about halfway into the crosswalk. For us to walk around the vehicle, we had to either walk very close to Connecticut Ave traffic or behind the SUV, where we couldn't have gotten onto the sidewalk easily.

I approached the vehicle, and asked the man if he was having car trouble. He responded that he was "just waiting for someone." That being the case, I asked him to please move his car so it wouldn't be in the crosswalk. He rolled his eyes and his window back up. I can't tell you how furious I was. His companion was approaching the car, so I asked her to please ask her husband or friend to please not park in the crosswalk the next time he picked her up (I assume he wasn't local, as the car had MD plates).

What I should have done was turned around and marched right back to the police cruiser parked about half a block away, or at least gotten the plate number. But I had my daughter with me, and it was dinnertime, and I was hopping mad.

I hope that you publish to help spread the word to drivers. Drivers - please consider that there are lots of pedestrians in the DC area - and we don't have as many choices or protection as you do in your cars.
Alison Santighian
Washington

Here's a map of the Connecticut Avenue/Ellicott Street intersection. (You can get a street view that will show the crosswalk on the west side.)

View Larger Map

By Robert Thomson  |  March 24, 2009; 6:31 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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Comments

Thanks, Dr. Gridlock, for posting this. I also forwarded this email to Councilwoman Cheh, who responded immediately via Blackberry. She and the Mayor visited our building about a month ago, and the Mayor promised to enlist the DDOT and MPD. Councilwoman Cheh told me in her email that she would forward my email to the DDOT director and to MPD CMDR Klein "as an additional push."

I shared her email with residents in my building last night at a building meeting; some were unaware of the issues and glad to hear. Please keep spreading the word.

Thanks,

Alison Santighian

Posted by: alisoncsmith | March 24, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I completely agree with the author's views. I would just like to point out that a car can most certainly have Maryland plates and be "local." As you know, Maryland is not very far away from that intersection.

However, local or not, the driver should not treat a crosswalk as a place to park.

Our constition does not guarantee equal right for automobiles. Somehow we forgot that in the 20th century. Cars are machines;tools. As such they need to be treated with extreme caution and never placed in a place of higher importance than a person's walking.

Posted by: Cavan9 | March 24, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

One of my pet peeves is when cars stop for a red light and block the crosswalk in the process (either because they were already there and the intersection was too full for them to get through, or because they had to slam on their breaks to stop and rolled farther than the white line). There is a white line that drivers are suppose to stop at for a reason. I bet many drivers would fail a driving test if they had to take it again because of pure laziness.

It's dangerous when you block the crosswalk because either the pedestrian must cross in front of the car and be very close to the crossstreet's traffic, or the pedestrian must walk around the back of the car. This is dangerous for two reasons. One, the diversion around often results in not getting across the street in the allotted amount of pedestrian cross time. Two because if you are coming from behind a car, a car turn into the intersection may not see you approaching.

Please be considerate and give pedestrians their rightful space!

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | March 24, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Ooooh.... she went ALL up in there! You go, girl!

The motorists on Arlington's Wilson Blvd between Quincy and Moore are just as horrible, careening from stoplight to spotlight and daring peds to use the marked crosswalks. I stopped doing morning cardio in the front window of Bob Peck.... oops, Gold's Gym there because nearly every ped who crossed the street had a death-defying experience and at least once every five minutes the possibility of human street pizza is quite real.

Our local police need to get more serious about pedestrian safety and divert meter monitors (good gender-neutral language!) to writing citations for violating crosswalks. While there are too many tragedies of peds crossing where they shouldn't in dark clothes at night, the arrogance of motorists towards pedestrian safety has become endemic and must be confronted.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | March 24, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I'll just say I agree with everyone who hates when cars think crosswalks are nice places for them to stop.

It also drives me nuts when cars decide to push their luck (or outright run a light) at intersections that have a VERY limited time allotted for pedestrians to cross (Georgia & Wayne Avenue intersection!). Then I have to hussle to cross the street because some fool has decided that the rules don't apply to him. Let me tell you how much fun that is when stuck on crutches and not able to mvoe fast in the first place.

Posted by: RedBirdie | March 24, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I think the problem is that many of us, especially suburban residents, have become so accustomed to driving everywhere and never seeing pedestrians that when they do venture into the city, they aren't really aware of pedestrians and pedestrian issues.

Before I moved to DC, I lived in the epitome of suburbia, in a subdivision with no sidewalks and nowhere within walking distance of anything. There were no pedestrians. When I moved to DC, I had a few close calls, because I was accustomed to looking out for other cars only and not pedestrians. It took a couple of weeks, and once I became conditioned to not turning before checking the crosswalk, it seems like second nature now.

I would implore all the people from the suburbs who come into the city to realize that you are in a city and not in a suburb, and to alter your driving habits accordingly. And if you are from the city and aren't looking out for pedestrians...shame on you, you should know better.

Posted by: thetan | March 24, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

On a similar, but somewhat different note, I have noticed that when I drive and take special precautions for pedestrians (such as stopping at crosswalks to let pedestrians cross - i.e. the crosswalks up and down Conn. Ave that are not tied to a traffic light), other drivers sometimes get upset at me. There is one crosswalk in particular, at Conn. Ave NW and Wyoming Ave NW where pedestrians have to cross with baited breath, hoping that drivers notice them in time to stop. I always look for them and stop. But some drivers behind me always have the nerve to honk and then try to drive around me, until they notice the pedestrian crossing in front of them too. I know its a "DUH" thing to say, but I wish that all drivers would take more care when driving around the city.

Posted by: aharvard | March 24, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Couple of things:

1) update - both the DDOT and MDP have responded to Councilwoman Cheh's email. This issue has their attention.

2) aharvard - thank you for paying attention. When I drive, I try to be as aware as I can. I find the same irritation from other drivers.

Posted by: alisoncsmith | March 24, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for posting Ms Santighian's comment. I commute up and down Connecticut almost daily (I'm one of those non-locals in Chevy Chase, MD)and I try to always be cognizant of not letting my speed rise and to be very aware of bikes and pedestrians. Even so, in heavy traffic, distractions abound, and visibility can be quite limited. We shop the upper Connecticut corridor frequently and (walking) cross at the lights, but it can be nerve-wracking, even with the lights. I welcome all initiatives to make Connecticut safer for everyone. I would even support a median, which would provide safety zones for pedestrians -- especially those who are older and move more slowly -- who have difficulty making it across the broad street in time. The median would certainly make my commute less convenient (losing the extra rush-hour lane) but it would greatly improve safety (at least in my view -- I certainly defer to those who've studied the issue more in-depth.

Posted by: wyb3203 | March 24, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for posting this. I have noticed a great rise in people operating cars, trucks, Metro Buses and bikes not paying a lick of attention to pedestrians. There is no excuse for this. Living in the suburbs does not fly. If one cannot handle city driving, then there are public transportation options or taxicabs.

I walk down 16th Street daily as do may other people each morning. I usually have a kid with me so I am careful and only use crosswalks and wait for the walk signal so to teach my kid how to properly cross a street. I have had near misses recently with drivers not even looking to their right before turning into crosswalks only to discover that there were people in them. Metro buses blocking entire cross walks at 16th and Columbia to sit at red lights at Argonne Way and bikers running lights and barely missing entire crosswalks full of pedestrians with the right of way.

Let us all be aware of each other and respect the rules of the road.

Posted by: mmcgowen | March 24, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Another extremely dangerous crosswalk in which I fear for my life on a regular basis is at the corner of U St and Florida NW. The intersection is confusing because 18th St is also in the mix. The problem is the green light on Florida where the right turn onto U St is more of a swerve than an actual turn. Pedestrians actually have a long countdown crosswalk - easily seen from all directions and mounted on the traffic signals - and the big thick white lines to cross the street. Yet cars turning right onto U St fly around the corner. A driver actually slammed on the breaks right in front of me and I reached out my hand in panic, touching their hood as they slammed on the breaks inches from me. I have been honked at, yelled at, and almost hit - and one of these things happens to me every time I cross. And I have a crosswalk signal!!

I wish I were overexaggerating.

Posted by: Kalaronya | March 25, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

This is a situation that is of particular concern to me. I use a wheelchair and I do not have the ability to maneuver around a car that is blocking a pedestrian crosswalk. Every marked crosswalk and every stop sign includes a painted limit line behind which all automobiles are required to stop when they are at an intersection. When I am going along a city sidewalk, I regularly see vehicles violate this and stop their car in front of the limit line, often to the point of driving the car to be completely within the crosswalk, so as to get a better “pole position” once the light changes to green. I often see drivers who have crossed feet in front of the limit line notice me approaching and they will back up the foot or so necessary so that I can roll across. I have also seen people back up so I can cross, and once I cross in front of them, the driver will pull forward to his or her former position.

I have a several recommendations for all drivers everywhere. Firstly, Even though you may be aware of the length of your car and the hood interference of the hood with your line of vision, ALWAYS stop at an intersection so that you can still see the limit line or crosswalk. And secondly, never, never enter an intersection unless you actually have the room in front of you to make it all the way across.

Posted by: ln569 | March 25, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I think it is immoral that pedestrians have to be pinned onto tiny sidewalks while single individuals who insist on dragging a 5,000 pound bedroom-sized vehicle attached to their plump, inactive bodies, get to take up all the space around us. Why do we tolerate this? Because it's always been that way? Not. The roads also belong to pedestrians. Check the history of the roads and the automobile. We have been brainwashed into believing that we must not be out walking on the roads. It's time for the car people, with their always angry vibe, to simply go away. We are all bored with their excess. As always, driving is for dinosaurs. It's for inactive people caught in the past. It definitely is not the future.

Posted by: deejoshy | March 25, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

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