District Should Welcome Walkers, Not Ticket Them

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I walk to work nearly every day. It can be a pretty dangerous way to commute in the District.

During my typical half-hour walk from Adams Morgan to my office downtown, I have to circumvent sticky gum wads melting on the concrete, noxious bus fumes and the protesting cats' rights advocate in Dupont Circle shouting, "Sign to lobby! You can sign; they can't!"

Not to mention the serious danger of vehicles hovering just inches away, waiting to turn, while I am in the crosswalk. Or drivers squeezing through the intersection after the light turns red.

So why do I walk to work?

I read somewhere that absorbing just 20 minutes of sunshine a day can improve your mood. Usually it does, clearing my mind after an intense day at work. Plus, as one who spends more of her time pent up in a cubicle than she'd like to admit, I need the physical activity. I enjoy the exercise of strolling to work. There are also the self-righteous benefits to society, such as doing my part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, smog and traffic congestion.

Thus imagine my shock in discovering that I, the virtuous pedestrian, am the hazard being targeted by the District police.

Not only was I targeted, I was caught.

Here's how my crime went down on Tuesday morning, May 1.

A construction site was blocking the sidewalk on 15th Street NW, so I proceeded, as any late-for-work-again commuter would have, by skirting along the fence to where construction ended and the sidewalk resumed. But the construction fence provided a perfect blind for the police officer awaiting his prey. I received a $10 notice of infraction for a moving violation. The notice of infraction named me as a "pedestrian causing a hazard."

I told the police officer that I could think of many more pressing matters that the D.C. police force could be addressing. I recall him replying, "Ma'am, that is a decision above my pay scale."

The District has started a serious crackdown on jaywalkers, apparently as part of the Street Smart Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Campaign. While there is a smattering of signs aimed at motor vehicles reading "Yield to pedestrians in crosswalk," D.C. police seem more intent on targeting jaywalkers. It is worth noting that the two pedestrians tragically killed by a Metrobus at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in February were not jaywalking but had the right of way in the crosswalk.

I do understand that pedestrians have a responsibility to obey traffic rules, for their own safety and that of others, but if the District is serious about ensuring a safe commute for those who walk to work, it should refocus its efforts.

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