D.C. Pedestrian Safety Strategy to Target High-Crash Intersections

By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 19, 2008

D.C. officials are planning to release a five-year, $12 million pedestrian strategy today that includes better timing of signals, clearer marking of crosswalks and other steps to reduce accidents and injuries.

The initiative, devised through the D.C. Department of Transportation, will target 61 "high hazard" traffic intersections, including many with a large number of pedestrian injuries or deaths over three years. The plan calls for measures such as restriping crosswalks and changing signal timing to allow more time for people to cross intersections.

The heavily congested intersection of Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue NE tops the list of dangerous pedestrian crossings from 2004 through 2006, with 13 pedestrians hit; 14th and U streets NW, with 12 crashes, is second.

George Branyan, the city's pedestrian coordinator, spoke about creating "a culture of civility" between pedestrians and drivers. For now, however, the city must depend on new public education programs, better engineered intersections and a lot of tickets for lawbreakers, he said.

In recent years, officials have faced growing pressure to make Washington more walkable. Although the struggle of pedestrians vs. automobiles is a century old, the increased urbanization of the District over the past decade has created new battle zones downtown and in many neighborhoods.

First among them is the area around Verizon Center in Penn Quarter. In addition to the volume of traffic brought on by development, the problems there involve the high-tech video billboards that emulate New York's Times Square and are a distraction for drivers and walkers. First District police Cmdr. David Kamperin said he thinks the huge screens were at fault for a hit-and-run accident along Seventh Street NW that seriously injured a woman.

Last year, 25 pedestrians were killed in the city, the highest number in the past five years. Two of those were female friends who were struck and killed by a turning Metrobus as they were leaving their offices on Valentine's Day.

Traffic safety advocates, city officials and residents said the number of fatalities is troubling but not necessarily the best indicator of pedestrian safety. The fear created by repeated near misses is a more reliable yardstick, they said. And throughout the city, people can attest to more and more close calls.

Almost every morning, retiree Anna Boyd, 61, must walk six blocks out of her way, just to find an intersection where she feels safe crossing busy I Street SW. At that time of day, her neighborhood is the destination for thousands of federal employees, who she said often drive through crosswalks where she has the right of way.

"They not only will not stop for you," Boyd said at a recent forum on pedestrian safety, but they also make rude hand gestures, she said.

Francis Campbell's east Capitol Hill neighborhood has seen such an increase in evening commuters along 19th Street and Independence Avenue SE over the past two years that, he said, he and others take "their lives into their hands running across the street."

Outside the Anacostia Metro station in Southeast, Sean Gaston, 42, a cook at American University, sometimes holds his breath watching teenagers jaywalking in front of speeding Howard Road traffic as they "walk out in the street like they have bumpers."

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