They didn’t need a study.
They knew that many drivers don’t care enough to step on the brake even during those before-school hours when students fill sidewalks and roads.
The study, which my colleague Luz Lazo wrote about on Tuesday, would be concerning, if so many people weren’t already concerned.
As Lazo reported, the analytics firm INRIX reviewed traffic data around 27 schools across the city’s four quadrants. It found that drivers — despite signs indicating they should slow down and watch out for children — were speeding and getting into crashes in school zones at about the same rate as along other roads.
It showed drivers not caring enough to go the speed limit near schools, and especially not caring enough to hit the brakes when near schools in low-income neighborhoods.
The study found that drivers were more likely to speed in Southeast and Southwest Washington, where a higher concentration of low-income students live. One finding: 22 percent of drivers in Southeast, compared with 14 percent in Northeast, travel at least 10 mph above the school zone speed limit. Two other findings: Near one Southeast school, more than 30 percent of drivers go faster than 25 mph during the hours when students would be arriving at school, and in a block south of the school, 55 percent of the drivers travel faster than 25 mph.
Consider what that means for children growing up in those neglected neighborhoods. They are already being asked more often than their wealthier peers to dodge bullets, and now, we’re also expecting them to more frequently dodge thousands of pounds of speeding metal.
Too often when road safety is discussed, the conversation pits drivers against cyclists and pedestrians. It becomes a finger-pointing exercise. But it benefits everyone on the roads if D.C. reaches its Vision Zero goal of ending traffic deaths in the city by 2024. I say this as someone who drives often through the region for my job. I would welcome measures that might make my trip slower if they would help prevent me from hitting a child, or having to write about another person who has been injured or killed while cycling or walking in the city.
Last year, I told you about several concerning incidents involving children who were crossing city roads. In a column I wrote about the life of Allison Hart, who was 5 when she was killed in a crosswalk, I shared how her mother had posted videos of vehicles speeding past a stop sign in front of her child’s visible sidewalk memorial. Those videos showed vehicles zooming by bouquets of flowers and a white ghost bike with training wheels. If ever there was something to make a driver slow down, it should have been that. Instead one video showed a bus speeding by with a message from Police Chief Robert J. Contee III on the side: “Help Us End Dangerous Driving in the District.”
Too many children have already been injured or killed on the city’s roads — and with the school year about to start again, we know more will happen if officials do not move quickly to put in place proven safety measures. We know that not just because of that study. We know that because of what recent years have shown us.
Last year, the city saw the highest number of traffic deaths in 14 years. One of those victims was 4-year-old Zy’aire Joshua, who was fatally hit by a vehicle while crossing a road with his family. Another child, 9-year-old Kaidyn Green, was struck outside his school in Southeast Washington in December and left paralyzed from the neck down. He died in June. Many other children have experienced close calls.
“It’s clear that just hoping that drivers will slow down near schools does not work,” D.C. Council Member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) tweeted on Tuesday, repeating what she had told The Washington Post. In a series of tweets, she addressed the Safe Routes to School Act, which she introduced and which the council is expected to vote on. It calls for the city to put in place traffic safety infrastructure, including raised crosswalks, speed bumps and curb extensions, at intersections adjacent to schools and increase traffic enforcement in school zones.
Acknowledging that speeding in school zones and traffic fatalities happen more often in lower-income areas, Lewis George wrote, “the bill prioritizes improvements for schools in communities that have been left behind.”
That bill and the Walk Without Worry Act, which was introduced by council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and would standardize the installation of safe street designs, have received the support from advisory neighborhood commissioners across the city. Last week, a letter signed by 35 of them and addressed to DC. Council leadership was shared with me.
“We are often the first asked by grieving relatives to explain how these tragedies could have occurred, and what we are doing to make sure these tragedies aren’t repeated,” the letter reads. “These painful conversations and memorials are no substitute for effective policy responses. We are committed to ensuring that every DC citizen, from school student to senior, can cross our streets without fearing for their lives and safety. We urge the Council to fast track two of several innovative bills pending, to signal that DC is making pedestrian safety an urgent priority.”
The letter told of the four people (three cyclists and a pedestrian) who had been killed in July, and described the city’s record as “a mockery” of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s Vision Zero pledge made to end traffic deaths.
“We can and must do better,” the letter reads, “our constituents deserve safe streets.”
It shouldn’t just fall to grieving parents and fearful cyclists and pedestrians to put pressure on city officials to make the roads safer. Drivers also need to be part of that effort. They need to start caring more about this issue and recognizing that their lives stand to be altered in horrific ways if more isn’t done to encourage or force more drivers to slow down in school zones. As a parent of two elementary-aged children, I am hyper aware of school zones. But in my 20s, I have no doubt that a speed bump or a stop sign caused me to slow down when my good sense didn’t.
The advisory neighborhood commissioner who drafted that letter, Meg Roggensack, serves the area where Nathan Ballard-Means lives. I told you about the 4-year-old last year. He was riding his bike with his mother when he was hit by a vehicle and thrown backward in a way that left his bike twisted and his body, thankfully, mostly uninjured.
Afterward, his father shared with me how every time they left the house Nathan would ask to be assured that he wouldn’t get hit by a car again.
His dad knew he couldn’t make that promise.
He knew that even before a study confirmed it.