Pedestrian Deaths Reach 10-Year High

By Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 1, 2007

A fatal accident yesterday morning brought the number of pedestrian deaths in Washington to 24, the highest number since 1997, according to the D.C. Department of Transportation.

About 5:30 a.m. yesterday, Francis Joseph Ryan, 26, of the 2700 block of Sherman Avenue NW was crossing westbound at 14th and Euclid streets, in the Columbia Heights area of Northwest Washington, when he was struck by a 1994 Acura Legend.

Ryan was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead at 5:51 a.m.

The driver of the vehicle was identified as Laurence Panton, a District resident. No charges have been filed, but the case is being investigated by the D.C. police's major crash investigation unit, said Officer Kenny Bryson, a police spokesman. Investigators think that Ryan might have been crossing the road in an area without marked crosswalks.

So far this year, seven more pedestrians have been killed than in all of 2006, said Erik Linden, spokesman for the city's Transportation Department. In 1997, the department recorded 24 pedestrian fatalities.

Linden attributes the number of fatalities in part to a growth in pedestrian activity. "We're becoming a walking city much more than we were in the 1970s," Linden said. "A lot of people today view owning an automobile as an unnecessary appendage."

"It's really disheartening," Linden said of the death. "All of this really underscores the importance of . . . the city's first-ever pedestrian master plan." Transportation officials have been working on the report, which they hope to release by year's end. It will be a detailed assessment of traffic problems and dangerous corridors in Washington, Linden said.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and a longtime pedestrian safety advocate, said, "Hopefully, the report will address the significant number of crosswalk areas that are not adequately engineered for pedestrian access."

Lynch said too many intersections in the city have confusing signage or curbs that make it difficult for pedestrians to see oncoming traffic. He also pointed to insufficient education on traffic risks for pedestrians and drivers.

The number of pedestrian fatalities typically rises in winter, when there is less daylight and visibility is poorer, statistics show.

Linden identified education, along with engineering and enforcement, as the key issues in traffic safety. "We can't work hard enough to get the word out to drivers and pedestrians that this is a real issue," Linden said. He said more specifics would be detailed in the coming report.

"It's a regionwide problem and needs a regional solution consistently applied," Lynch said. "The need for this is only growing as the region and the city grow."

Montgomery County, for example, has had 15 pedestrian fatalities so far this year and had 17 last year.

"A lot of these pedestrian fatalities are preventable, and that makes this a double tragedy," Lynch said.

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