Monday, June 11 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Pedestrian Safety

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George Branyan
Pedestrian Program Coordinator, D .C. Dept. of Transportation
Monday, June 11, 2007; 2:30 PM

In the wake of recent traffic fatalities, what can be done to make things safer for pedestrians? George Branyan, Pedestrian Program Coordinator for the DC Department of Transportation, takes your questions and discusses the city's Pedestrian Master Plan.

Branyan was online Monday, June 11 at 2:30 p.m.

A transcript follows.

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McPherson Square: Hi George.

It seems like in NYC, more of an effort is made to accommodate pedestrians during construction. Here, it seems like the model is to close the sidewalk as long as needed, often with little signs to warn one that they may be crossing to that side of the street only to have to cross back. What thought is given to this?

George Branyan: The issue of pedestrian access in work zones has become a critical problem in recent years with all the new construction. I'm happy to say that DDOT's Public Space Admin. has just drafted new regulations that will require construction to be done completely on private property, with any sidewalk closures to last no more than one week. These new regs were written after discussions with NY City staff. Covered walkways will be required to protect pedestrians during construction.

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Penn Quarter: The walk lights with timers often do not allow enough time to cross a wide street. Is anyone aware of this problem?

George Branyan: Anywhere you encounter a pedestrian signal that seems too short (or any other problem with signs, signals, or pavement markings), please call 727-1000. This generates a tracking number and DDOT has to resolve it. You can do this online too and check the progress of it.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Please remind pedestrians that they have some responsibility for their own safety - and even for the safety of drivers. Jaywalking, crossing against the light, or other careless behavior can be hazardous both for themselves and for drivers ...

George Branyan: You are absolutely correct. According to police crash data, pedestrians and drivers are equally responsible for collisions on D.C. streets. It is essential that both drivers and pedestrians follow the law. But remember that pedestrians will pay the ultimate price whether they are following the law or not, and because of that, most other developed nations put the majority (but not all) of the responsibility for protecting pedestrians on the driver.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Branyan -- Thank you for participating in this discussion. I have lived in downtown D.C. for 20 years. I walk to and from work along M St. everyday. What I see happen at two intersections everyday is frightening and yet I never see enforcement for both pedestrians and cars.

The intersections are 19th and M St. NW and then the very tricky Rhode Island, Conn Ave, M St. NW At this intersection cars routinely make illegal left hand turns from Rhode Island onto Conn Ave, and illegal right hand turns from M onto Conn Ave. These illegal turns put these cars directly in the path of pedestrians who have the right of way. We need officers at these locations every day, especially rush hour until people stop doing this. What can we do together in order to make this a reality?

George Branyan: Thank you for the question on enforcement. Several other questions also ask about why there isn't more enforcement. DDOT has been working closely with MPD over the last couple of years. I personally have trained about 100 officers in ped/bike law and effective enforcement techniques this year -- including how to target drivers who do not yield to pedestrians. MPD has increased enforcement on both drivers and pedestrians, including in 2006 2,200 tickets to drivers and 1,400 tickets to pedestrians. The problem is that MPD is called upon to do some much else. Write the Chief and let her know that a fully staffed traffic unit needs to be revived.

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Washington, D.C.: Any idea when DDOT's new public space regulations that require construction to be done completely on private property will go into effect? My office is next to a construction site where a brand new building is going up. They've broken ground, but not much else. It would be such a relief if I could actually use the sidewalk to reach my office!

George Branyan: These regs are on the desk of DDOT's director now. I am not aware of it being retroactive to projects previously approved, unfortunately. But we have made some work sites install a protected ped walkway where we realized our previous plan did not accommodate pedestrians properly.

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Arlington, Va.: I've noticed that when I'm driving in D.C. near the Washington Monument that the crosswalks aren't "protected crossings". By this I mean that the traffic lights aren't red in every direction while pedestrians are given a chance to cross major intersections. Cars making turns are forced to wait for pedestrians, or as the case may be NOT wait for them. Why doesn't D.C. make protected crosswalks like those that are located near schools??

George Branyan: These "protected" crossing are known as an "all-red" pedestrian phase. They can work in the right situations, such as in Denver where they have a tight network of one-way streets in the downtown. But this signal phasing in not a silver bullet for ped safety. It requires that a signal cycle be divided in three part, not two as at a conventional intersection. This means peds will have to wait longer to get a walk signal. Peds are not permitted to cross with parallel traffic on the green which might be a hard new behavior for people to learn or obey, especially if turning traffic is light. I think enforcement, education, and engineering that slows turning vehicles will make a bigger difference in the long run.

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A pedestrian in D.C.: Hi George:

The intersection at Reservoir Road and 37th Street is usually always busy. What's worse, there is a lot of pedestrian traffic made up of people trying to cross Reservoir. I walk down 37th to Reservoir every day, as part of my commute to Georgetown University. The pedestrian timer gives people (and cars) approximately 15 seconds to cross Reservoir. This is incredibly dangerous. People can just make it across, but that does not allow for any vehicles trying to turn west onto reservoir. Many people run the light, and come dangerously close to hitting pedestrians. Is there any way that the light can be made to last longer?

George Branyan: There are situations where there is competition between left-turning vehicles and crossing peds, especially when the time is tight. There may be a solution that either involves more time or a split phase -- meaning a left arrow for the vehicles. I'll talk to the engineers on that one.

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L'Enfant Plaza: There was recently a piece in The Post about a woman who was ticketed by a cop for "jaywalking" in the street because the sidewalk was blocked by construction. This doesn't seem like a very cooperative approach from the city.

George Branyan: I have a very sharp officer in MPD who works with me on trying to train officers to target "high value" jaywalkers. We have not trained all officers who end up doing ped enforcement so these situations happen. The overtime money comes from DDOT, so I want it to go to serious violators, both drivers and peds.

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Gallery Place: Any idea why the area around the Portrait Gallery is closed off to pedestrians? The renovations of that building were completed last year. But still 7th Street between F and G is blocked off and also around on the other side. I can't see any reason for this and it's really annoying.

George Branyan: Probably the permit allows them to keep the sidewalk closed until work is complete. This a situation that we hope to eliminate with the new regulations.

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Beautification Projects: I attended my ANC meeting a couple months ago and we had a representative from DDOT reveal banner designs and other various materials for my Bloomingdale neighborhood as well as Truxton Circle and one other area that is escaping my memory. It seemed that the realization of these projects was pretty imminent, despite some unwarranted complaining and general lack of gratitude for something that is basically free through city grants, but still, I'm not seeing anything up in the neighborhoods. Is there any status on these projects?

George Branyan: I don't have any knowledge of this, but try the DDOT Ward 5 Transportation Planner, Sharlene Reed, at sharlene.reed@dc.gov. She should be able to help you.

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Mid-block crossings: When it comes to pedestrian crossings without control lights, how does the right of way actually work? Sometimes there is a flexible sign that reminds drivers to yield (or stop) for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Drivers tend to take notice of those. Other times, it is as if the crosswalk is invisible. Does a pedestrian have to step off the curb and actually enter the crosswalk, or just be obvious in his/her intent to cross?

George Branyan: Great question. You are right that the in-street signs do get drivers' attention better that just the paint. You do have to be in the roadway on the crosswalk for the law to apply, not on the curb. I observe most walkers do not assert themselves, but rather hang back near the curb and drivers never stop. Being more assertive can help. But never step in front of a vehicle that can't stop in time -- that's also part of the law.

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Dupont Circle: Hi George: Are there any efforts to deal with the traffic circles? They aren't very pedestrian friendly. You can get stuck in a very narrow median waiting to cross an entire circle (Dupont) or a narrow median to cross properly (south side of Washington at New Hampshire). Of course people feel safer jaywalking than having cars whizzing by. I find that true of Connecticut in a lot of places, too, where you can get stuck in a median while trying to cross the entire street.

George Branyan: There is no easy answer for L'Enfant's gift to the District. Since in most cases we have to get pedestrians into the middle of them, we also have to get them around them and they are beset by high vehicle volumes, we have to resort to lots of signals that tend to break up the ped's journey into small segments that result in delay. So many people jaywalk. The alternative would be to have unsignalized crosswalks but then we're back dealing with drivers and their yielding behavior. When we figure this out, I'll let everyone know.

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Washington, D.C.: While I've heard of a few neighbors getting tickets for jaywalking around Eastern Market metro, I haven't seen any enforcement for vehicles. Are the 2200 vehicle citations you mentioned above specifically targeted to pedestrian safety?

Also, what are the rules for pedestrians? Is it true that you can't begin crossing on a flashing red? Even if you can easily cross before the light changes?

George Branyan: yes, the tickets to drivers were either speeding (a great hazard to peds) or failing to yield, or blocking the box.

Yes, it is the law that you are not to start crossing facing a flashing hand. But the ped countdowns show people how much time is left so the fleet of foot can make it in 7 seconds or so. The timing of the flashing hand is set for a walk pace of 4 ft. per second, a pretty slow walk. I am trying to work with the cops to leave this alone and target the really hazardous jaywalkers.

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Washington, D.C.: When snow is removed from streets, it is inevitably piled up at intersections, making crosswalks extremely hazardous. Any ideas for solving this problem?

George Branyan: The law is that adjacent property owners are responsible for clearing snow from both the sidewalk and curb ramp. We got burned on this last winter and our inspectors will be doing more enforcement next winter. As for snow in the crosswalks, we have to work with or plow drivers to get them to go back and make a second pass to clear the edges of the crosswalk after they've done the travel lane.

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George Branyan: Thank you all for the good questions. Signing off. Remember to call 727-1000 if you have questions about streets, crosswalks, signals, markings, or signs. Thanks!

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