The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s time to get serious about reducing traffic deaths

A pedestrian crosses K Street NW near McPherson Square in D.C. on Sept. 15. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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Three days after a 5-year-old girl was hit and killed last month by a van as she rode her bicycle into an intersection in Northeast Washington, a 90-year-old woman died from injuries she suffered in a car accident in Southeast. They were the 28th and 29th people killed on D.C. roads this year, and their deaths highlight long-standing concerns that the District is failing to provide the attention and resources needed to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.

In a recent letter to the head of the city’s transportation department, D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the council’s committee on transportation and the environment, warned that the city is in danger of surpassing last year’s total of 37 deaths. And with 30 traffic deaths so far this year, D.C. already has exceeded the 27 deaths that were recorded for all of 2019. “Some of the death and violence in the District has complicated root causes and problems, but that’s just not true of road deaths,” Mr. Allen and Ms. Cheh wrote in the Sept. 28 letter. “We know how to build roads that will make people drive slower, that will allow pedestrians to cross safely, that will ensure our residents can ride bicycles without fear.” After a father and his two children were hit in a crosswalk by a vehicle while they were walking to school on Wednesday — “Walk to School Day” — the council members renewed their concerns. They pressed the administration to show urgency in following through on the promises of its Vision Zero policy, launched six years ago with a goal to end traffic deaths by 2024.

Much fanfare surrounded the introduction of the Vision Zero policy, which was modeled after programs that in other jurisdictions have proved successful at reducing fatalities of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. But as the number of people killed in traffic incidents increased year over year in five of the six years since the program’s start, the administration has come under increasing criticism. “Just a hashtag” was Mr. Allen’s dismissive characterization of the strategy. D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson announced that her office would undertake a review of the program to determine what has been done and how resources have been distributed.

After a string of fatal accidents this year, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) pledged $10 million for road safety improvements and traffic enforcement, and some long-stalled projects are finally moving forward. Last year, she lowered the default speed limit on city streets from 25 mph to 20 mph. All are steps in the right direction, but more must be done. The administration should stop dragging its feet on implementation of improvements to the program ordered by the council, including identification and devising a plan of action for the 15 most dangerous intersections in the city. Enforcement needs to be strengthened, no matter whether the violator is a driver, bicyclist or pedestrian. Those who use the streets must also understand that they, too, have a responsibility in making them safer.

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