Starting with this morning's commute, a new corps of traffic enforcement officers will be deployed at 15 busy intersections in the downtown area to keep vehicles moving and discourage blockages along congested roadways.
The intersection "cops" -- actually employees of the D.C. Department of Public Works -- will be out from 7 to 9:30 a.m. and again from 4 to 6:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. They won't write tickets during rush hours, but their whistles will be poised to blast any drivers who dare to block an intersection -- or creep into it when the traffic light is turning yellow.
And when the rush-hour commute is over, the officers will focus on issuing citations to those who contribute to congestion by double-parking, parking in loading zones or committing other parking infractions, officials said.
"Keeping our busiest intersections free of traffic gridlock is good for visitors, good for commuters and good for business," D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said as he launched the program yesterday afternoon at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, adjacent to the John A. Wilson Building.
About a dozen uniformed traffic enforcement officers, wearing chartreuse vests and white hats, stood nearby, readying to go to work. They later inaugurated the program by taking positions at six high-volume intersections in the downtown core, including 14th and Pennsylvania, 17th and Constitution, and 19th and I streets NW.
The tougher traffic enforcement is the first initiative from the mayor's Downtown Congestion Task Force, whose members include business and community leaders as well as government officials. It is a joint project of the city's Department of Transportation, Department of Public Works and police department.
The public works agency, according to officials, studied intersection control practices in other cities and recruited 30 employees from its Parking Services operations to be traffic enforcement officers. The transportation agency contributed funds for training, uniforms and equipment, and the police department provided three days of traffic direction training, more than regular police officers receive.
The traffic officers will be paid about $33,000 a year.
Williams said 50,000 jobs have been added to the downtown area in the past five years, contributing to chronic traffic congestion and affecting the quality of life in the city. Between 150,000 and 200,000 vehicles leave the downtown area every afternoon rush hour.
The mayor said a crackdown on double-parking and other traffic violations also will increase revenue for the District.
But D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), joining the mayor and others at a sidewalk news conference, hastened to assure motorists that the new program is no "revenue enhancement" scheme.
"We see the traffic congestion on our streets, the way people can't move," Schwartz said. "We're just trying to move the people along."
Dan Tangherlini, director of the Transportation Department, praised the "real partnership" between the government and businesses, among government agencies and between labor and management, which he said worked out "expanded opportunities" for parking control officers by creating the traffic enforcement positions.
Joslyn Williams, president of the AFL-CIO's Metropolitan Washington Council, called the traffic crackdown "a win-win situation" for all involved.
"The city decided to use employees who already had some training, who already had some knowledge," he said. "We're happy to partner with you."
The city plans to hire employees to replace those who left their Parking Services jobs to become traffic enforcement officers at the intersections.
The patrolled intersections may shift depending on traffic patterns, according to a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department. Eventually, she said, the city hopes to expand its patrol to additional intersections and may assign officers to help as school crossing guards.