Why Don't You Walk More?

Recent changes to traffic patterns around Thomas Circle in Northwest have made the area much more pedestrian-friendly.
Recent changes to traffic patterns around Thomas Circle in Northwest have made the area much more pedestrian-friendly. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007

D.C. officials want more people to take to the streets.

To make life easier for pedestrians, they want to widen sidewalks, redesign crossings and reduce driving speeds. They want to know where brighter lighting is needed, where more trees should be planted, which intersections are too perilous for foot traffic. For the next 10 months, officials are working on the District's first formal plan to make the area a more enjoyable -- and safer -- place to walk.

"Every day, we're becoming more of a walking city," said Emeka C. Moneme, acting director of the District Department of Transportation. "One of our goals is to make the city safer . . . and have a positive impact on the quality of life."

With its first Pedestrian Master Plan, the District is joining a nationwide trend toward more walkable and less car-reliant communities. In the past few years, a growing number of cities, including Cambridge, Mass., and Portland, Ore., have adopted blueprints for how best to encourage and protect pedestrians. In the Washington region, Arlington and Loudoun counties also have adopted detailed pedestrian plans.

Public safety is a top consideration. In the District last year, 17 pedestrians were killed; in 2005, there were 16 such deaths.

"The more pedestrians you have on the street, the safer it is for every pedestrian," said George Branyan, DDOT's pedestrian program coordinator, who said a major safety priority is to "calm speeds."

The District has a built-in advantage in launching the initiative. Like most older East Coast cities -- Boston, Philadelphia, New York -- it was conceived as a walking city, with narrow streets laid out on a tight grid. Newer cities, such as Phoenix or Jacksonville, Fla., catered to the motorist, with wide arterial highways.

After World War II, many communities neglected the needs of pedestrians, as the automobile spawned suburban growth and inner cities began to decay.

"But now, more and more communities are realizing they need to focus their design around people, not the car," said Dan Burden, director of Walkable Communities, a nonprofit organization based in Orlando. The group ranks Washington among its top pedestrian-friendly cities.

Burden said support for doing more to promote walking comes from several directions, citing concerns about traffic congestion, fuel consumption and obesity. "For health reasons, we need to use our muscles again," he said.

With its new pedestrian plan, the District aims to cater more to its growing foot traffic, transportation officials said.

"We have the second-busiest transit system in the country, and that puts a lot of people on the streets," Branyan said.

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