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Mayor Fenty Releases New DC Pedestrian Plan

Brentwood crossing.jpg
Enhanced crossing on Brentwood Road NE was designed to improve visibility. (Thomson)

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty this morning released the final version of the city's plan to improve pedestrian safety.

The primary goals: 1) Reduce the number of people hit by cars. 2) Make walking a way of life again by making it easier and safer to do. [See map of District's most dangerous intersections for pedestrians.]

The master plan challenges a century of car culture. It infuses city planning with the concept that pedestrians have as much right to the streets as motorists. The plan, under development for two years, includes recommendations that raise consciousness on safety issues. But it also sets guidelines for engineers to follow as they design street and sidewalk projects.

These are among the many safety recommendations to D.C. agencies and organizations:
* Ensure all transportation and real estate development projects include safe and convenient pedestrian facilities.
* Construct new sidewalks where missing on streets in the District.
* Improve pedestrian access and safety at uncontrolled crossings and intersections.
* Improve pedestrian access and safety at bus stops.
* Revise the DDOT Design and Engineering Manual to better address pedestrian safety and accessibility.
* Train roadway planners and designers to make sure they understand these new safety policies and practices.
* Increase penalties for motorists for infractions that impact pedestrian safety.
* Expand the speed camera enforcement program.
* Teach people the rules of the road and the benefits of walking.

To unveil the plan in its final form, Fenty chose a site a few blocks east of the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metro station that provides an example of the safety challenges and potential solutions. Here, a Home Depot is on one side of four-lane Brentwood Road NE and the Department of Motor Vehicles office is on the other, in a small shopping center. There are plenty of people walking and there's plenty of traffic.

Fenty at Brentwood (3).jpg Fenty gets review of crosswalk. (Thomson)

This isn't a good spot for a traditional traffic signal. There's heavy north-south traffic on Brentwood that might not see the light in time.. So while it was developing the pedestrian master plan, the District Department of Transportation experimented with a different approach to keeping pedestrians safe.

The crosswalk, set up more than a year ago, is quite visible. It has prominent signs alerting drivers that they must stop for pedestrians in the crossing. What makes the setup unusual is that on either side of Brentwood, a walker can hit a red button that sets amber lights flashing as a warning to motorists. (You can see it in a file photo at the top of the page. I took the picture last May.)

Pedestrians waiting to cross see these instructions:
1. Push button to alert motorist.
2. Wait for vehicles to stop.
3. Cross carefully.
4. Thank the driver.

I like that last one. The plan makes specific references to the value of encouraging good behavior on everyone's part.

This map shows the location of the enhanced crosswalk on Brentwood.

View Larger Map

By Robert Thomson  |  May 11, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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Okay, we know motorists must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. Funny I didn't see anything addressing pedestrians' total disregard of the existing walk/don't walk (countdown) signals at controlled intersections. Has anyone done a study on what percentage of traffic jams (blocking the box) are caused by inconsiderate pedestrians who ignore these signals? You know, pedestrians who start crossing 4 lanes plus median when the countdown is flashing a red hand and displaying 5 seconds to finish crossing. The motorist is unable to complete a left or right hand turn and is subject to being ticketed by a red light camera for blocking the intersection.

Posted by: Rich393 | May 11, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

You know, you can post signage until you're blue in the face about stopping for pedestrians. However, until the police are out enforcing it nothing will ever change.

Perhaps the District could reallocate all of those meter "cops" who walk around talking on their cell phones all day to some of these dangerous intersections to write some tickets. DC still gets their money.

I live in a neighborhood that has the same pedestrian crossing setup as the Brentwood one mentioned. (Van Dorn Street and Maris Ave. in Alexandria) Cars almost never stop for the flashing yellow lights when we push the button to get across.

It's nice in theory, but for now, I'll just say I'll believe it when I see it.

Posted by: Ellvee | May 11, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm a driver who gets infuriated with rude pedestrians and a frequent pedestrian who would like to fire a bazooka on some drivers.

More metro police ought to be put on the street on their feet or bicycles. And those are the ones that ought to be busting pedestrians for jaywalking (including not heeding the pedestrian lights).

There also should be more red light cameras and more speed bumps in residential areas (such as Stanton Park where cars going 20 over the limit are a dire threat).

And driving while on cell phone ought to being treated like drunk driving.

Glad to see the Mayor paying attention to this issue.

Posted by: DagnyT | May 11, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

To Rich393, thanks for your post--I needed a good laugh from a solopsistic motorist who somehow thinks the mere *possibility* of a questionable ticket at one of the scant DC intersections with red light cameras (should a driver find him or herself unable to complete a left- or right-hand turn due to a tardy-pedestrian) is somehow on a par with concerns about pedestrian safety in the District. Hilarious.

Let's start at the top: as to your claim that "we know motorists must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk," um,

Apparently countless motorists in DC don't know that--or just don't care, as evidenced by the dozens (as in, "dozens") of pedestrians in DC hit each year...IN THE CROSSWALK. In fact, according to DC DoT data, on average a pedestrian a month is killed by a car in the District. (But please, don't take my word for it, check out

(Here's another fun fact: did you know that under DC law, a car must yield the right of way to a pedestrian in any crosswalk where no signal is in operation? It's true! Check it out at

Of course it's completely untrue to claim, as you do, that pedestrians have "total disregard of the existing walk/don't walk (countdown) signals at controlled intersections." Some do, but most don't--as five minutes of observation at, say, 20th and K NW during rush hour will prove.

Besides, your "observation" that you have not witnessed "anything" dealing with pedestrian crossing against walk/don't walk signals just proves that either you haven't been paying attention or have no interest in an honest discussion -- anyone who stands at Farragut Square during rush hour will observe numerous DDOT personnel in bright vests directing traffic and, yes, instructing pedestrians not to cross against the signal nor leave the curb once the "don't walk" signs begin to count down.

Obviously, short of Stalin-esque enforcement mechanisms, some pedestrians will continue to jaywalk. But last time I checked, exactly zero drivers have ever been killed by having a pedestrian run into their car, and exactly zero drivers have died having gotten a ticket under extenuating circumstances from a red-light camera.

Even if your complaint were the environmentally-laudable concern that jaywalkers exacerbate gridlock, the obvious solution would be to encourage use of public transportation, cycling, walking, and carpooling, rather than "making the streets safe for cars."

Your post boils down to a petulant driver whining that he has to yield to late-crossing pedestrians. Please get over yourself. Thanks in advance.

Posted by: dwanebivens | May 11, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse



Posted by: rockotodd | May 11, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

In response to some earlier posts, while some pedestrians jaywalk, the far greater problem is motorists who blatantly disregard pedestrians who are legally crossing. Every day I see motorists who race up to turn right on red on Mass. Ave., not even bothering to stop to see who might be in the cross walk. Then there are those who honk at you while you legally cross. Pedestrian safety plans will never work unless drivers obey the rules of the road and learn some common courtesy.

Posted by: lgp2 | May 11, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

You can put all the cross walk signs in the world in DC and you still need to write jay walking tickets. I've found a solution for the whole mess. I don't drive, shop or patronize shops in DC. Why? DC allows people to jay walk. there is no fine placed on walkers, only the driver. I've seen people step out into the street and they don't look left or right. TYhey just start walking. Who can stop a car on a dime? No one can. Consideration is not given in DC for the driver, because if it were they would be writing jay walking tickets. That's what they used to do in the Mayor Washington and Barry Administrations. It's useless and a waste of tax payers dollars. It will only work if the police right tickets for jaywalkers and not just for drivers. People purposely walk out into traffic just because the law states you must stop for pedestrians, that can be had to do if someone walks out in front of your car. I think that's why more and more people are hitting these people and not stopping for fear of being ticketed and other things. If people heeded the walk signs and stayed on the curb it would be no problem. I've seen people standing on the virtual edge of the corner, and when those buses turn those corners, they just about can take the pedestrian with them. Oh well.

Posted by: dihcroepac | May 11, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Most METROBUSES in that area, are 40-42' long. Clearly both bus stops in this picture, would have the bus blocking the crosswalk, if the buses were picking up/ dropping off passengers.

If Fenty wants to get w/ Catoe (WMATA's General Manager)& help make DC pedrestrian friendly, how many more bus stops/shelters would need to be moved, to make crosswalks safer for pedrestrians?

Posted by: Robbnitafl | May 11, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

"Has anyone done a study on what percentage of traffic jams (blocking the box) are caused by inconsiderate pedestrians who ignore these signals? You know, pedestrians who start crossing 4 lanes plus median when the countdown is flashing a red hand and displaying 5 seconds to finish crossing."

First of all, there is nothing wrong with doing that, providing they can get across in 5 seconds. When the white person is on, or when the flashing hand is on, pedestrians have a right to be in the crosswalk, and its really not up to drivers to say, "he entered legally so I'll yield to him, but I saw him step off the curb one second after the hand started flashing so i'm going to mow him down!" Afterall, the reason the countdown is there is to allow the pedestrian to make the decision based on how much time there is and how fast they can walk. The flashing don't walk is a relic from the days of no-countdowns, and is time such that the slowest elderly person with a cane can make it across before the cross street gets a green.

More often than not though, the cars I see blocking the box do so under the following scenario: Cars have a green, traffic slows, and cars are stopped across the crosswalk and backed up into the intersection. The light turns, and pedestrians, who now have a crosswalk signal, start crossing and weaving between the cars stopped in the crosswalk. Then traffic starts to clear, and cars that are downstream from the crosswalk start to go, but pedestrians in the crosswalk legally crossing are trapping those cars upstream from the crosswalk in the box. This is a dangerous situation, since most of the "trapped" drivers will attempt to push and bully their way through the crosswalk, rather than wait. Much safer to just wait even if you are blocking the box, but much more ideal to not block the box in the first place.

Posted by: thetan | May 11, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

WASTE of MONEY!!!!!!!!! Get those lazy cops who also see folks trying to cross the street but yet drive pass them to do their dang JOBS! Enforce the laws already on the books, let the fines fly! This would raise revenue and folks will get the message! All the flashing lights are mere election ploys of Mayor Brain-Fart Fenty!

Posted by: CashNDC | May 11, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

"The master plan challenges a century of car culture. It infuses city planning with the concept that pedestrians have as much right to the streets as motorists"

Yet everything about the way the Brentwood crosswalk screams that DDOT considers pedestrians second class users of the streets. First, consider the choice of signal -- flashing amber. What does it mean when you come to an intersection and you have the flashing amber? You have right of way. Why not use the signal that means you have to stop -- a flashing red? Or even a regular red light? We're trying to communicate to motorists that they don't have right of way, right? Why so ambivalent about it?

Second, when you're driving and you have the green light, do you thank the drivers stopped at the red for not T-boning you? No. You thank people who let you go even though they have right of way. So why should pedestrians thank motorists for stopping in the crosswalk?

DDOT is just institutionally incapable of believing that pedestrians have the right of way.

Posted by: washpost4 | May 11, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Is DC going to move telephone poles and street lights off of sidewalks? We wheelchair users then wouldn't be forced to ride in the street.

Posted by: dkf747 | May 12, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

It is absurd that Americans let car people take over the streets and pin us to those tiny sidewalks. Pedestrians have the main right to the street, not car people in their deadly, bedroom-sized, vehicles. That is how it was before cars existed. Driving is for dinosaurs and everybody knows it. I can't wait for gas prices to go up again. What a relief that will be. Car culture is the has nothing to do with the future. Those caught up in it didn't seem to get the message during the last rise in prices. Did any of them start planning on a move to where they don't need to drive as much? I'm not seeing it happen. I guess they want to get caught in the gas trap again. Why does any individual have to move 5,000 pounds of metal with them for every transaction from major to minor when they only weigh less than 200 pounds themselves? The whole car culture phenomina is something for insane people who never think about others.

Posted by: deejoshy | May 12, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone else noticed how angry the car people are all the time? I think we may have discovered the cause of high blood pressure and heart disease in this country. :) Maybe if the car people moved to a place where driving all the time is not a requirement they would get their health and their calmness back. Didn't we get a warning just one year ago about where gas prices are heading? Has anybody figured out it might be smart to start figuring out how to move to a less car dependant neighborhood? People think there is no other way and that they cannot change but it is all a myth. There really are other ways to get around, especially if we start asking for them from our leaders.

Posted by: deejoshy | May 12, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

I'll thank motorists who go out of their way to stop (like if I am approaching an intersection on foot, and they wait, and wave me on, when they could have made it through before I got there). But I'm not thanking people for otherwise obeying the law. It's not a courtesy, waiting is an obligation. As a very frequent driver, I don't expect a thank you from the pedestrians I wait for, either.

Posted by: mjk62 | May 13, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

"I've found a solution for the whole mess. I don't drive, shop or patronize shops in DC."

Wait for it... Wait for it...

If there's anything else we District residents can do to make your driving experience a little less enjoyable, just let us know!


Posted by: icoleman | May 14, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I have zero sympathy for drivers in DC or other cities. You have complete control over every other iota of this country. Your highways extend deep into the hinterland so you can live in big, isolated, inefficient particle board houses. the tax dollars of every car free citizen support and subsidize your bad behavior and we're sick and tired of it.

It seems like DC, finally, gets that it needs to start looking out for the interests of those of us who live here and that cities are just plain better without cars. You commuters come in from your highway world and treat my neighborhood like 270. You have no idea how to be a good neighbor because you spend two weeks (two weeks!) a year (a year!) sitting still in traffic in a giant metal rectangle. You are addicted to an object that, for all intents and purposes, has become a major national security risk. Literally, your refusal to adopt a more responsible, human-scale lifestyle puts our troops in harm's way.

If it were up to many DC residents, all but transit and essential vehicles would be banned from the L'enfant city. I eagerly await the day when any driver who hits a pedestrian or biker loses their license, is forced to pay the victim's medical expenses and compensate them to the tune of 10,000 dollars. Try pulling your Entitled Driver Syndrome stuff over in Europe. You'd be laughed out of every quiet, transit-oriented community they have!

Posted by: supersmax | May 14, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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