D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Friday that the District is making progress on its goal to end traffic fatalities by 2024, but that reaching the goal will require the entire region to come together.
“This is a regional issue,” Bowser said at the city’s inaugural Vision Zero Summit, which drew representatives from Washington-area jurisdictions to discuss how to make roads safer for all users.
With as many as 425 traffic deaths in the region each year, and pedestrians increasingly making up a larger percentage of those deaths, officials say finding measures to prevent fatal road crashes is becoming a rising regional concern.
Across the region, several jurisdictions have taken steps to combat traffic fatalities, focusing on strategies that prioritize education, enforcement and street design. Some are promoting lower speeds in areas with high pedestrian activity. Lowering speeds is a fundamental strategy for communities that are part of “Vision Zero,” a program aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
Locally, the District, Alexandria, Va., and Montgomery County, Md., have taken the “zero” pledge, joining a growing number of places across the United States.
“Everybody in government needs to be thinking about all the regulations,” Bowser told the group. “We have to be thinking about regulation and implementation.”
Bowser signed on to the zero pledge when she was elected in 2015. Now, she said, the city is on track to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024 with a plan that focuses on designing safer streets, keeping better track of safety data, education and enforcement. The District’s plan also lowers the default speed limit to 20 mph from 25 on some neighborhood streets and creating 15-mph zones from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on roadways around schools, parks, and senior and youth centers. The city also has proposed raising the penalty for excessive speeding to $500.
These measures, some Vision Zero supporters say, are necessary to ensure no more lives are lost on the region’s road system. At the summit Friday, transportation planners, engineers, policymakers and advocates brainstormed ideas of how to reach that goal. Some said traffic deaths are unacceptable.
“We want to get action plans written and executed,” said Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which organized the summit in partnership with AAA and George Washington University Hospital.
Data show that more education is needed, said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. There are too many distractions, such as texting while driving and socializing, that contribute to deadly crashes, he said, adding that such policies as prohibiting texting and driving and enforcement are critical.
“When your eyes are off the road for a second, your chance of getting into a crash grows significantly,” Yang told the group. “We need to continue to educate and tell our families to tell our friends about some of the consequences” of driving distracted, being under the influence or driving aggressively.
“If we can lead by example, we can reach the zero goal,” he said.
Also critical is the way local roadways are designed, said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, which advocates for engineering roads for lower speed limits.
“We see engineering as a critical part,” a Montgomery County official in the audience agreed. But, he said, “the experience is that education without enforcement doesn’t work. We can educate people, but if we don’t give citations to motorists, we don’t see behavior change.”
Bowser says the zero goal is reachable with steadfast commitment and strategies for enforcement, public education and street engineering. Last year the District registered 28 traffic fatalities.
“That is 28 too many,” Bowser said.
“Anytime there is a fatality of any sort in the District, somebody calls me and tells me about it. I am always struck by the number of calls that we get,” Bowser said. “A lot of these intersections where people have died, I think about those intersections and wonder if there was something we could have done to make people safe.”