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Taking Steps to a Pedestrian-Friendly D.C.

Sgt. Donna Allen writes a warning ticket after a driver failed to yield to a pedestrian  --  actually an undercover police officer  --  at a crosswalk in Northeast.
Sgt. Donna Allen writes a warning ticket after a driver failed to yield to a pedestrian -- actually an undercover police officer -- at a crosswalk in Northeast. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)

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By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006

Marion Anderson sported a Washington Nationals T-shirt and blue pants. Rose Garrett's similarly casual outfit was accessorized with a Bluetooth earpiece and white-frame sunglasses. Both women carried shoulder bags.

And as they stepped onto a zebra-stripe crosswalk on Bladensburg Road at L Street NE on a recent sunny morning, seven cars whizzed past them. Five minutes later, as they again attempted to cross the four-lane street, a mammoth Ford Excursion whisked by and beeped impatiently. For the next hour, about half the cars passing through the intersection failed to yield to the two pedestrians.

Too bad for those drivers.

For on that day, Anderson and Garrett, D.C. police officers, were working undercover, testing drivers' compliance with pedestrian safety laws. A police spotter observing the exercise radioed ahead to uniformed officers Arlinda Page and Donna Allen, stationed a half-block away, alerting them about the cars that failed to stop.

"The excuse for everyone is, 'I didn't see the pedestrians,' " Allen said.

Fifteen drivers who slowed but failed to stop for the two women got a lecture and a handout on pedestrian safety. Thirteen others who sailed right through the crosswalk were sent on their way with a $50 ticket. Eighteen drivers were cited for speeding in the 25 mph zone.

The D.C. police department's "targeted crosswalk operation" is a new enforcement technique, part of a stepped-up effort by city officials to improve pedestrian safety.

So far this year, the District has logged 10 pedestrian deaths, accounting for 43 percent of all traffic fatalities since Jan. 1. The victims' ages ranged from 2 to 68, and five of the dead were children. Six of the 10 deaths occurred in Ward 8.

Last year, there were 16 pedestrian fatalities, and there were 10 in 2004. The average for the past five years is 14, city officials said.

One recent victim was 14-year-old Torian Gibson, who died early June 18. He had been hit by a car two days earlier as he crossed the street at Pennsylvania and Texas avenues SE about 9 p.m.

On average, 550 walkers are hit on District streets each year. And although progress has been made in reducing fatalities, which reached 25 in 1993, officials are aiming for zero.

It's an important goal in a place that ranks second among U.S. cities in the proportion of commutes done on foot. The 2000 Census found that walkers account for 11.8 percent of journeys to work in Washington. Baltimore is higher, at 13 percent. New York, a prime pedestrian city, has only 10.4 percent walkers.


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