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Bowser pledges $10 million for road safety after recent traffic deaths

More speed and red-light cameras are among the changes planned to address a spike in traffic fatalities

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. (Susan Walsh/AP)

In the wake of a string of fatal crashes this spring, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Wednesday that she is pledging $10 million for road safety improvements and traffic enforcement across the city this summer.

Standing at a downtown intersection, Bowser pleaded with drivers to respect the city’s speed limits and announced a plan to target specific intersections and upgrade the city’s aging automotive enforcement systems.

“We, of course, have been troubled by the significant increase in the number of fatalities that we have experienced on our roadways in 2021,” Bowser said as a group of activists behind her held a large sign that said, “Mayor Bowser We Demand Safe Roads.”

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Traffic deaths have been up for two years, and advocates have questioned the city’s strategy in slowing the carnage. D.C. had 37 traffic fatalities last year, up from 27 in 2019. As of Wednesday, the city had recorded 16 fatalities, six more than the same time last year, police records show.

The trend is a setback for the District, which in recent years has pledged a “Vision Zero” approach to reduce fatalities and serious injuries, only to see the numbers rise.

Bowser on Wednesday said the local numbers were part of a national trend that she said the city hopes to reverse. She did not answer a question about whether she believes the District can reach the goal she set in 2015 to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries by 2024.

“I believe with all of us working together, we can make our streets safer,” Bowser said before she was interrupted by passersby.

Some safety advocates say the mayor’s response has been ineffective in addressing traffic deaths, saying greater commitment is needed, including funding for a comprehensive Vision Zero bill that passed last year and is largely unfunded. Others say they are encouraged by the city’s response.

“She still needs to do more,” said Matthew Sampson, a safety advocate and D.C. resident. He said Bowser’s pledge is good, “but it’s tiny compared to the size of the traffic violence crisis. She’s not going to meet her own [Vision Zero] goals with this investment.”

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Bowser said the District Department of Transportation will reallocate $5 million to accelerate safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists at dozens of locations.

Among the improvements are the installation of curb extensions and medians. Additionally, crews will be installing reflective paint to protect pedestrians and bicyclists and deploy electronic signs that warn drivers when they are traveling too fast.

At 18th and M streets NW, where Bowser stood Wednesday, plans are to add a dedicated bike lane, more signage and pavement markings, officials said.

Another $5 million will be used to upgrade the city’s automated enforcement equipment, Bowser said, noting that more traffic cameras — including speed and red-light cameras — will be deployed.

“No one likes to get a speeding ticket, but as you’ve always heard me say, you don’t have to get it,” Bowser said. “What’s worse than getting a speeding ticket is getting hit by a speeding car.”

She continued: “We’ve already seen a child killed this year, a cyclist killed and pedestrians killed. And I’m sure that the drivers in those instances never thought that they would be behind a wheel when a person was killed.”

April was particularly dangerous on city roads. Eight people were killed, including five pedestrians, one bicyclist, a scooter rider and a driver.

Among those killed was a 29-year-old cyclist and safety advocate struck in a chain-reaction crash downtown; a 4-year-old who was crossing the street in Northwest; a 20-year-old Maryland resident riding a scooter; and two friends who were advocates for the homeless and were fatally struck while walking at Hains Point.

Bowser on Wednesday also announced plans to keep the D.C. Circulator system free and that she tapped Everett Lott to become the full-time director of DDOT. Lott, a former deputy director at the agency, has led as interim director since his predecessor, Jeff Marootian, left to join the Biden administration in January.

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Lott worked for the Federal Highway Administration as senior adviser before coming to DDOT in 2018. In recent weeks, he has engaged with the advocacy community to respond to safety concerns, using Twitter to condemn the recent deaths and promote safety improvements.

Last month, when a bicyclist was killed downtown, he said the loss underscored the importance of “our ongoing and critically important work to rebuild streets that are safe for our most vulnerable street users and support the growing number of residents and visitors who choose bicycling to travel.”

On Wednesday, he said the city is committed to “bold, impactful improvements” to make the city streets safer.