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D.C. looking at ways to keep pedestrians safe from terror attacks

Pedestrians walk past newly installed anti-terror bollards in Martin Place on June 26, 2017, in Sydney, Australia. The large concrete blocks have been installed across Melbourne and Sydney to block vehicle access to city pedestrian zones so as to prevent a London- or Nice-inspired terror attack. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
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In the District, where scores of tourists and commuters walk the city streets daily, law enforcement officials are assessing new measures to prevent a London-inspired terror attack,where vehicles were used as weapons to mow down pedestrians.

D.C. police, transportation and other city leaders declined to discuss specific tactics or any investments in protective measures, but measures elsewhere have included the installation of bollards and other barriers to separate traffic from pedestrians.

“As the nation’s capital, we are constantly in a state where it is not a question of if, but from where threats are coming,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who chairs the panel’s public safety committee.

“There are going to be reasonable and smart and strategic investments in bollards and other tools and techniques to help protect residents,” he said. “But I don’t think residents want to be walking behind a row of jersey barriers.”

Assistant D.C. Police Chief Jeffery Carroll said bollards are only one strategy the city is considering to keep residents safe.  After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, bollards were deployed throughout the city. Now with vehicle attacks on the rise, he said, the department is working with other agencies to find different ways to mitigate and prevent such attacks.

“This is something that has been on our radar for quite a long time and we take the appropriate cautions,” Carroll said.  “We are always trying to stay a step ahead of these terrorists.”

Although there is no specific terrorist threat at this time, Carroll said residents and visitors should always be aware of their surroundings, know where they are and how to reach a safe location. And if you see something that seems out of the ordinary or seems suspicious, call 911.

Pedestrian advocates, meanwhile, say they welcome efforts to keep drivers from jumping over sidewalks, but urge law enforcement and transportation officials to not lose sight of the bigger problem on America’s roadways: pedestrians being struck and killed by cars–in many cases cars being driven by distracted and intoxicated drivers.

“People are getting run over by cars every day,” said Jacob Mason, a member of the advocacy group All Walks D.C.  He said the terror incidents that have shaken England and other European countries in the past year prompting changes in U.S. cities, highlight the vulnerability of road users.

While the use of vans, trucks or cars as weapons poses exceptional challenges to public safety, he said, the walking public is more concerned about falling victim to reckless drivers.

“These are tragic, really malicious acts, but it is important to keep in mind the carnage that happens everyday that doesn’t make headlines,” Mason said.

Nationwide, between 2010 and 2015, more than 28,600 people died after being struck by vehicles, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Vehicles as weapons of terror: U.S. cities on alert as attacks hit the West

Experts say any investments in tools such as protective barriers will help improve pedestrian safety whether they are pushed for counter-terrorism or not. But protecting pedestrians on America’s roadways will take more than physical barriers, advocates argue.  They say more traffic calming measures and even more rigorous vetting of drivers and vehicle registrations should be considered.

From 2014 through April of this year, terrorists carried out 17 vehicle ramming attacks in the world, killing 173 people and injuring 667, according to a report by the Transportation Security Administration. Only one of those attacks was in the United States.

In the U.S., numerous domestic incidents where individuals have deliberately used vehicles to kill pedestrians have served as lessons, officials said.

In the District, for example, higher levels of protection were implemented at large public events after a 2007 incident, in which a woman who was high on crack injured dozens by plowing her car through a street festival in Southeast Washington.

Block parties and farmers’ markets these days are planned so that large vehicles are parked at both ends of the block to form a physical barrier. For larger, more high-profile events, authorities use barricades and even public buses as buffers.

The new threat has revived talks about more protections, such as expanding the number of bollards that have historically been used to guard entry points to campuses and buildings in the District.

A Calpipe security bollards is subjected to a crash test. (Video: Calpipe Security Bollards)

“We are not strangers to having threats directed our way, but that also means that we take it seriously and we work hard to make sure that the city is safe, our residents are safe, our visitors and guests are safe,” Allen said. “That is front and center and paramount to us.”