For a short time on Thursday night, a small but fiercely determined group of marchers took over a busy D.C. street to demand better safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Rachel Maisler, one of the organizers, set off for city hall from the corner of 13th and K streets NW with about 30 other people. They carried placards with the names of 10 people who were killed this year while going about their business on foot.
“Tonight we’re walking for them,” Maisler said, before stepping off on a raw and drizzly night. They walked in silence, flanked by police vehicles that kept the rest of the traffic at bay.
When the marchers reached the Wilson Building, they placed empty pairs of shoes in a crosswalk on Pennsylvania Avenue, spoke the name of each victim and observed a moment of silence.
The demonstration comes as Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and political leaders around the region have called for more urgent steps to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. The District has reported 31 traffic deaths so far this year, up from 29 in all 2017, despite participation in an initiative called Vision Zero that aims to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.
The organizers of Thursday’s march hoped the walk would also rally support for several new traffic safety measures before the D.C. Council to reinvigorate the initiative. The legislation includes proposals to limit speeds in residential neighborhoods to 20 mph and prohibit motorists from making right turns on red at intersections near schools, with bike lanes or in downtown.
“I think it’s largely been mostly talk and not enough action so far,” said Amber Gove, who is an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member on Capitol Hill. She expressed frustration with the city’s pace in reengineering streets or stepping up enforcement citywide. In her neighborhood, it’s been a long and involved process working with the District Department of Transportation to obtain safety modifications near a crosswalk in her neighborhood where a pedestrian was killed two years ago, she said.
“I’d like a more comprehensive look around schools, around schools, around senior centers,” Gove said. She expressed frustration that the city seemed to balance people’s convenience — such as the wish for street parking close to their homes — over people’s safety.
“Parking is the third rail of ANC politics,” she said.
Yet lives could be spared by adding curb extensions — which narrow the street and slow traffic — or creating more bike lanes, even if it means taking the space from curbside parking.
“And yet they still cave to, ‘Gee, I really need my parking space within 15 feet of my front door, or I’m going to be upset with you,’ ” Gove said. “This is a public health crisis. This is a climate change crisis.”
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), a co-sponsor of the new Vision Zero measures, joined Thursday’s march, carrying a placard with the name of Carol Joan Tomason, who was killed Oct. 12. Tomason, 70, of Chapel Hill, N.C., was in a marked crosswalk when she was hit by a pickup at 15th and H streets NW, not far from the White House. Tomason also happened to be a close family friend of Allen’s who was visiting the city.
“Every person we’re trying to memorialize here today has a name,” Allen told the group. “They’re a person, they’re a brother, they’re a sister, they’re a husband or a wife — and they’re gone now, and that’s because we’re not doing enough to make it safe for pedestrians to walk around the city.”
Allen said the city needs to make pedestrian safety a priority and devote as much attention to that cause as it does repairing streets with its annual Potholepalooza campaign. Then, as the demonstration wound down and Allen was giving a brief interview, a car pulled off Pennsylvania Avenue and pulled into the middle of a crosswalk right in front of him to let someone out.
“There’s a car has actually parked in the crosswalk!” Allen said. “That happens every single day. That’s probably an Uber driver who thinks it’s perfectly okay to pull into a crosswalk. We have to change the mind-set.”
--This posting has been updated to clarify that the people memorialized were all pedestrians.
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