There she is, sitting on the floor next to scattered Legos, proudly holding up a paper that shows her practiced handwriting. On it appears her name again and again: Allison. Allison. Allison.
There she is, swooshing down a slide into a swimming pool, all bathing suit and mustered bravery.
“She worked up the courage to go down the slide, held her breath the whole way,” Jessica Hart explains in a tweet that accompanies the video of her 5-year-old daughter Allison Hart, or Allie as she was known to loved ones and friends. “We talked abt how when she was 6 she’d probably be able to go off the diving board. We need safer streets NOW.”
Right now, Allie should be anticipating her school’s winter break and looking forward to taking that dive next summer. Right now, she should be thinking about what presents she might get for Christmas and feeling excited about the little brother who is expected to join her family in a few months. Right now, she should be here, playing in the mud, singing loudly to the “Hamilton” soundtrack (which she loved), and filling her parents’ camera rolls with silly faces and new adventures.
Instead, the video of Allie conquering that waterslide is one of the last that the kindergartner’s family took of her before the driver of a van hit and killed her on Sept. 13 as she rode her bike in a crosswalk near a school in Brookland, her neighborhood. Her father, Bryan Hart, was with her at the time, and the two weren’t far from their home.
“Allie once said that she would be scared to be by herself if she were hit and would want us to be hit together,” her father tweeted on Oct. 23. “I told her, no, that I would try to protect her & want it to be only me. That grown-ups are bigger and have a better chance of surviving. If only.”
A week and a half earlier, Jessica Hart noted on Twitter how much time had passed since they had lost her.
“One month. Since I said ‘I missed you while you were at school today’ and she smiled and said ‘I missed you, too,’” she wrote. “One month. Since I held her hand in the street, pulled out from the sheet covering her after valiant efforts by @dcfireems, and told her I’d miss her forever.”
By D.C.’s count, Allie was the 28th traffic fatality in a year that has seen 40 people killed on city roads and a string of children hit while crossing streets. Before Allie’s death, 4-year-old Zy’aire Joshua was killed while crossing a street with his mom and siblings. After Allie’s death, a 4-year-old boy on a bike was hit in a crosswalk and thrown, mercifully, in a way that left him with mostly scratches. Days later, two sisters, ages 6 and 8, were hit and seriously injured as they headed to school with their father on National Walk to School Day. Just blocks from where that incident occurred, on Oct. 10, a driver hit and critically injured 9-year-old Kaidyn Green as he left his elementary school. And since then, other children have been hit.
Those incidents, in their details, are devastating. But in the context of Allie’s death, they are also infuriating.
For months, her parents and community members have been publicly calling on D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and the District Department of Transportation to make roads safer for children and other pedestrians and bike riders. They’ve been asking for raised crosswalks, speed cameras, curb extensions and other measures that don’t just ask drivers to slow down when they get to an intersection or drive near a school, but make them face consequences if they fail to do so.
They’ve been demanding immediate action, not plans and studies and maybes.
Allie’s parents have turned their social media pages into platforms that lay bare their grief, anger and mission to have some good come from their daughter’s death. To show the need for safer streets, Jessica Hart has posted videos of vehicles speeding past a stop sign, without care or consequence, in front of her child’s very visible sidewalk memorial. In one video, a bus flies by and featured on its side is a photo of D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and the plea, “Help Us End Dangerous Driving in the District.”
The city has a shameful record of seeming to drift away from its Vision Zero goal of ending traffic deaths by 2024. But the mayor and other city officials still have the chance to make D.C. a model for safe streets, one that communities across the country can look to for guidance. You don’t need a study to know that putting raised crosswalks, curb extensions and speed cameras near schools and playgrounds will force drivers to slow down. You just need a license. I say that as a frequent driver who would welcome those measures, and give up my ability to turn right on red, if it meant I could better avoid hitting a child.
At the end of November, Bowser (D) announced a new traffic enforcement effort that would increase the presence of D.C. police around certain schools. While that encourages drivers to slow down and pay attention, it doesn’t ensure they will. Infrastructure improvements do.
On Wednesday, D.C. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), joined by eight council colleagues, introduced the Walk Without Worry Amendment Act, which would standardize the design and installation of continuous sidewalks and raised crosswalks and intersections in the District. And on Thursday, council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), joined by 11 council members, introduced the Safe Routes to School Expansion Regulation Amendment Act, which, among its provisions, would requires a traffic signal or all-way stop at every intersection within a quarter-mile of a school.
Five-year-olds shouldn’t have legacies. They should have futures. But since Allie won’t get that chance, her legacy should be safer streets in her city and in others.
Out of respect for Allie’s parents, I didn’t want to write about her life until they were ready. Recently, they gave me permission to tell you about her. Her mom also granted me access to her private Instagram page, which reads like a pandemic diary for Allie. Each day of that isolating time, as her daughter went from age 3 to 4 to 5, Jessica Hart posted a photo of her and a brief note about how she spent her day.
Day 275 shows Allie holding up two sheets of paper that read, “Dear Santa, I am 4 years old. My favorite things are mostly tiny Legos. My favorite color is pink. For Christmas, I would like a Jungle Rescue Lego watchout tower, Lego Arendelle castle & other Frozen Legos … I would also like any surprises you think of. Please bring presents for my cousin Elsie, too.”
Day 321: my baaaaaby’s first night in her Big Girl Bed!
Day 381: making mud soup and tiny tacos for the fairies.
Day 551: first day of kindergarten! It was, and I quote, “even better than you expected!!!”
The last post, before her mom explains why she and her husband have “broken, shattered hearts,” shows Allie concentrating as she wears a blue helmet and rides a bike the color of the sun.
Right now, she should be thinking about outgrowing that bike. Instead, a tiny “ghost” bike painted white sits at the corner where she was killed. Near it, on a recent morning, orange cones blocked off the area as children and adults covered the street with colorful chalk in memory of the kindergartner.
There were her parents and grandparents, taking in the scene of people writing “Protect Our Kids” and “Build Safe Streets.”
There were her neighbors and people who came from other parts of the region, talking about shock and grief and anger.
There, on the street, in handwriting that didn’t belong to her, was her name written again and again: Allie. Allie. Allie.
Read more from Theresa Vargas