For Kelly Dillon, pedestrian safety became a critical issue in October 2013. That’s when her leg was crushed between two parked cars, one of which was displaced when it was hit by a speeding vehicle.
“I was very badly hurt,” she said recently.
“She’s lucky that she’s walking in here,” added Joe Riener, Dillon’s neighbor and one of her collaborators in founding All Walks DC.
The nonprofit group was started to advocate for safer streets and for the concept of “Vision Zero,” which Dillon describes as “the idea that all these crashes are preventable, and no deaths or even injuries are really acceptable.”
Dillon’s injury happened on Arkansas Avenue NW, in front of her house in 16th Street Heights. She and her neighbors noticed that rush-hour parking restrictions, which temporarily opened another lane to traffic, encouraged faster speeds. So they petitioned the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to take steps to reduce the risk of another such incident.
“With a lot of persistence over the course of the year, we ended up removing the rush-hour parking restriction, painted parking boxes along the street, did some high-visibility crosswalks,” Dillon said. “Traffic is a lot slower and calmer now.”
After that success, All Walks DC looked to other neighborhoods. On June 18, it organized a march to call attention to Wisconsin Avenue NW, where pedestrians had been hit and killed by cars on two consecutive days the previous week.
“We just decided that this was so awful that there were two so close to each other, and that both of them were so clearly preventable,” Riener said. “There was just an outpouring of grief about it. We wanted mainly to give people a way to express that grief in a positive way.”
He was expecting perhaps 25 people, but the crowd swelled with staffers from the Tenleytown pediatric clinic, where one of the victims worked.
“So we had about 100 people show up and march two miles on a hot day down Wisconsin Avenue,” Riener said.
All Walks DC is just getting started, Dillon and Riener acknowledged. The group has a board of directors that makes collaborative decisions, but no formal members.
“We are looking to grow,” Dillon said, “in terms of getting more people involved with some of our actions, getting people on our e-mail list for updates about what’s going on around the city. I would like to see it grow into something kind of like [the Washington Area Bicyclist Association], where we would have membership around the city and people coming together to make plans.”
The group’s organizers are concerned with traffic engineering and enforcement. They support more cameras to capture infractions, including speeding, red-light running and failing to give pedestrians the right-of-way in crosswalks. Other issues are possible reduction of speed limits and getting the D.C. Council to mandate that DDOT provide crash data in a timely manner.
The goal, Dillon said, is “a combination of re-engineering our streets, educating people about safety issues, enforcing the laws and also measuring where these crashes occur and giving ourselves more information about how to address them.”
The group’s Web site, allwalksdc.org, reports on construction sites that don’t follow recently enacted D.C. regulations that specify how to provide safe walkways around the work areas.
“We haven’t started screaming yet,” Riener said. “But we might.”
Although All Walks DC intends to delve into policy and engineering matters, Dillon suggested that “at the end of the day it really comes down to personal stories. That’s certainly what mobilized my neighbors to act.”
“We’re all pedestrians at some point,” she said. “And each person who’s affected by this has a network of people who love them and care about them. And I think that seeing that tragedy compels people to act.”
A retired high school teacher, Riener recalled that he used to instruct his students about the concept of tragedy, and that a character’s tragic fate might have been altered by a different vision.
“To me, the tragedy on our streets is exactly that,” he said. “And there’s all kinds of ways of traffic calming and re-engineering roads so that people don’t get hit by automobiles. So I wanted to get involved in this tragedy and see if we could change it.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.