My mother’s death could have been prevented. There are engineering and legislative solutions that must be implemented to ensure that no other family experiences the grief and trauma that I have needlessly endured.
My father was the first to learn of the crash that morning, as he exited the hotel where they were staying while visiting our family to look for my mom, only to find the street encircled with police tape. An officer told him that a woman of my mother’s description had been struck and taken to George Washington University Hospital. Our family gathered at the hospital. What we had thought might be a few broken bones became something much more grave. We learned she had been taken to the neurological intensive care unit. I had never even heard of a neuro ICU before. From the neck down, my mother appeared to be her beautiful and graceful self, her delicate hand in mine, usually full of life, but this time limp and unaffectionate. From the neck up, however, it was a completely different story.
Her head was covered in a cloth, to shield us from the injuries where the double impact to her head had occurred: once from her head hitting the front of the pickup truck, and once from the force of the truck throwing her to the ground, causing the major blow to her skull. The cloth worked from a visual perspective, but it did little to shield us from the fact that the injuries she sustained were not survivable, and we would have to watch her go. That cloth did not shield us from the impact that this trauma would have on our family or on our lives living in the District. Crossing a street is a terrifying act. Being behind the wheel is just as harrowing. This is 23 months after we said goodbye.
Since the moment she died in her hospital bed, I have had this image in my head of my mother floating away. Even today, she is still floating away, except now she is floating farther into space, now light-years away. Perhaps this is my visualization of time passing, or me losing the memory of her voice or her touch. But I do know what it cannot be. It cannot be me losing touch with the effect my mother’s death has had on my life or the life of our family. She was ripped away from us in a violent way, but also in a way that was completely preventable. My mother was a woman of action, and I am demanding action in her honor.
D.C. has made some strides toward curbing traffic violence, but there is much more to be done. On Tuesday, the D.C. Council may hold its final vote for the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Amendment Act of 2019. This act, which was developed by Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) after holding community meetings to solicit ideas from residents, will save lives by lowering speed limits, requiring engineering and design elements such as bike lanes and sidewalk bump-outs to protect people who walk and bike, and strengthening driver education laws, among other items. We must look beyond the needs of drivers and take tangible action toward making our streets safe, accessible and employable for all who wish to use them, even with the new and increased usages we see on our streets during the pandemic. We all deserve to feel safe on our roadways, no matter how we chose to use them or in which ward we use them.
I cannot stand by and watch other people lose their lives like my mother, and I cannot let other families feel eviscerated and watch them shatter to pieces in ways similar to mine. Passing the Vision Zero Act is a great place to start, but with it, our leaders, including Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), must pave the way for the rest of us to take steps on truly safer streets.
Fear should not be the feeling that comes to mind while walking our city streets, pandemic or otherwise.