D.C. lawmakers introduced emergency legislation Tuesday that would expedite pedestrian and bike improvements on a long-troubled road where a cycling activist was struck and killed last week, allegedly by a man driving a stolen van at more than twice the posted speed limit.
The bill, introduced by council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), aims to expedite plans to redesign Florida Avenue NE into a safer space for pedestrians and bicyclists following the death Friday of David Salovesh, 54, of Northeast Washington.
Police had attempted to stop a van when its driver sped away, hit a vehicle at 12th Street and Florida Avenue NE and then struck Salovesh, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
The bill was one of two introduced Tuesday. A second bill would require the District to build protected bike lanes on roads being repaired or rebuilt.
Salovesh’s death struck a chord among the region’s commuters; he was an avid rider and vocal advocate for a network of protected bike lanes and safer streets. He is one of eight people killed in traffic crashes so far this year, in a city where increasingly more people are commuting by bike and on foot — and where traffic deaths are also on an upward trend. On Sunday, 31-year-old Abdul Seck, of the Bronx, was struck and killed while walking in Southeast Washington.
“We need to demand and expect more,” said Allen, noting it has taken the District Department of Transportation a decade to move forward with plans to redesign Florida Avenue. Allen’s proposal would not allow DDOT to reprogram any capital funds until the Florida Avenue redesign is done. Allen said DDOT moved $3.2 million to other agencies last year that could have been used for the safety improvements on Florida Avenue and other dangerous intersections.
“For every year I’ve been on the council, I’ve asked about the progress on the Florida Avenue redesign. Every time I get the same answer, ‘We are in the design process. We are holding community meetings.’ And it never goes anywhere,” Allen said. “I am sick and tired of empty promises.”
A section of Florida Avenue has six lanes and can feel more like a highway as it crosses through other major commuting routes such as North Capitol Street and New York Avenue. The road narrows to two lanes as it moves east of West Virginia Avenue and into the area where Salovesh was struck. Speeding vehicles are routine. D.C. resident Ruby Whitfield was killed six years ago on the same stretch of Florida Avenue as Salovesh when a speeding driver struck her as she headed home from a church service.
Allen’s bill establishes “an aggressive set of deadlines” the agency would need to meet for the redesign of Florida Avenue and penalties for when those deadlines are missed, including “new and greater council accountability on their budget,” Allen said.
The redesign, which is 30 percent complete, will reduce the number of travel lanes and create protected bike and pedestrian paths.
City transportation officials were on Florida Avenue Tuesday, evaluating temporary fixes to address safety concerns until construction of the project begins in 2021. DDOT Director Jeff Marootian defended the speed at which the city has moved to make repairs there and at other major intersections. He said the 2020 budget proposed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) 2020 includes funding to fix some of the District’s most troubled corridors, including Florida Avenue NE.
"There’s high urgency to get this project done,” Marootian said. He said that he couldn’t point to reasons the project was delayed before his arrival at DDOT two years ago, but that the agency has been working to accelerate the project since.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) on Tuesday also proposed the Mandatory Protected Cycling Lane Amendment Act of 2019, which aims to enforce the transportation agency’s commitment to designing and installing protected bike lanes. Eight other council members are co-sponsors.
The proposal, which mirrors one that passed in Cambridge, Mass., this month, will require the city to install permanent, protected bike lanes whenever a roadway within the city’s bicycle plan undergoes repair or construction.
Cheh said she plans to work with the council on a more “comprehensive road safety omnibus bill” that would honor Salovesh’s legacy as a “stalwart bicycle advocate."
“He was a wonderful human being and vigorous activist for safe cycling, and we will all miss his voice,” said Cheh, who chairs the panel’s transportation committee. She said she will host cyclist and pedestrian working group meetings over the summer.
Allen, who represents the area where Salovesh was killed, said he also plans to reintroduce a bill that failed to pass last year. It sought to better enforce safety, slow dangerous speeds and build better roadways for everyone’s travel.
“But this time, it will be much bigger, bolder and try to represent a comprehensive set of reforms,” Allen said. “The number of people killed on our streets has gone up, not down. It is past time to bring greater urgency. If you knew Dave Salovesh, you knew he would push hard and wouldn’t settle for half measures.”
Robert Earl Little Jr., 25, of Northwest Washington, has been charged with second-degree murder and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in connection with Salovesh’s death.
Last year the District logged 36 traffic deaths, up from 31 in 2017, and the highest in a decade, according to records. As of Tuesday, eight people had been killed in traffic crashes in the District this year, including two drivers, four pedestrians and one bicyclist.