Why Don't You Walk More?
D.C. Seeks Residents' Input as It Prepares a Master Pedestrian Plan

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.

Twelve percent of D.C. workers walk to work, 33 percent ride Metro trains or buses, 2 percent bike and 38 percent drive, he said.

DDOT has set aside $250,000 for development of the plan, but there is no separate budget for improvements it would recommend, Branyan said. "We will incorporate more pedestrian friendly features on reconstruction already slated to be done."

Officials laid the groundwork for the project last year, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is supporting it.

Branyan pointed to the recent $6 million redesign of Thomas Circle in Northwest as an example of what DDOT wants to accomplish elsewhere in the city. The work there included redirecting motor traffic to the perimeter of the circle, eliminating cut-through lanes and easing traffic flow for pedestrians and vehicles.

DDOT is seeking residents' input on what needs to be done through public meetings in the spring and an online survey that is open until Feb. 9.

The survey, which is at http://www.tooledesign.com/projects/dc, includes questions such as "Which of the following factors make it more difficult or unpleasant for you to walk in the District?" and offers a choice of answers such as "No sidewalks or gaps in the sidewalk," "Drivers not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks," and "Worries about personal safety (from crime)."

It also asks which areas of the District need the most improvements. DDOT already is looking at 10 high-crash corridors, including Georgia Avenue NW and the intersection of Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue NE.

In the past three years, DDOT has installed 1,300 countdown devices at signaled intersections showing pedestrians how many seconds they have to cross safely. About 200 more are planned.

Some simple adjustments have reaped benefits. Eliminating rush-hour parking restrictions on busy 13th Street NW, for example, reduced travel to two lanes from Logan Circle to Florida Avenue, Branyan said. Traffic was forced to slow down, and pedestrians are now able to cross more safely.

"Speed is the critical factor in the severity of injury to pedestrians," Branyan said. "If you hit a pedestrian at 40 mph, they have a 90 percent chance of dying. But conversely, if you're going 25 mph, they have an 80 percent chance of survival.

"This is not a case of reinventing the wheel," he said. "There are a lot of good ideas out there."

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