Moving Targets


You have to worry about getting hit if you’re playing dodgeball. You shouldn’t have to if you’re taking a walk and obeying traffic laws. At least, that was my theory before I started reading stories nearly every day about pedestrians getting knocked over.

On Tuesday morning, a woman was smacked by a car in a residential Bethesda neighborhood. Later that day, a driver struck three people near a bus stop in Northwest. On Wednesday, it was three people at a bus stop in Northeast. And a week ago, it was 71-year-old Ruby Whitfield, who was in a marked crosswalk by New Samaritan Baptist Church on Florida Avenue when she was fatally hit by a drunken driver.

At a vigil held at the church Tuesday night to honor Whitfield, Mayor Vincent Gray promised to install a traffic signal in front of the church. And while that’s a nice gesture — and a helpful one for other folks in the neighborhood — it doesn’t address the larger pedestrian problem we seem to have here.

The Twitterverse responded to the spike in incidents with “#pedestriansafetytips” — tongue-in-cheek suggestions of how we should conduct ourselves when on two feet.

“Make eye contact w drivers b4 entering the street — they might lipread your last words & pass them on to your family,” suggested @mcmoots. “Before crossing, look right, then left, then right again. Then left again, then right, then, screw it, go back home,” offered @schonbergerben.

Several of my favorites (including “Walking across the street is good exercise. But running out of the way is EVEN BETTER Win/win!”) came from @bikepedantic, otherwise known as 37-year-old transportation planner Darren Buck. The Arlington resident hopes the gallows humor highlights a serious problem: “We accept so many of these incidents as accidents. People getting hit by cars isn’t a natural thing. It’s preventable.”

The District Department of Transportation has been addressing the problem by putting in traffic signals with leading pedestrian intervals (that’s when the walk sign flips on a few seconds before a green light to give pedestrians a head start into an intersection). D.C. Council member Mary Cheh noted the improvement at the start of a hearing Monday dealing with pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Noah Smith was there to testify about his pet peeve: construction projects that block sidewalks and bike lanes.  Smith’s district includes the intersection of 14th and U streets NW, one of the city’s most accident-prone. It doesn’t help that developers are working on both sides of 14th Street, and while the project on the east side provides a protected walkway, the west side’s doesn’t. His constituents demand sidewalks.

Giving pedestrians a fair share of the road is a no-brainer. Forcing drivers to pay attention to foot traffic should be, too.

Although I don’t dispute the wisdom of @twjpdx23 — “One great way to make sure you’re visible is to set yourself on fire before crossing the street” — there has to be an easier way to get noticed.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Eliza Krigman · March 28, 2013