Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Marlene Berlin

Marlene Berlin is a community activist who has lived in DC since 1975. She chairs Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action as the pedestrian advocate for Iona Senior Services, staffs the DC Senior Advisory Council on transportation issues, and is Vice-Chair of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Most mornings, you can find her out on her daily walk trying to get across the street safely. 

Pedestrians


Van Ness construction could close sidewalk for 2 years

The last time the sidewalk by the Van Ness Square demolition site was closed to pedestrians, it was a temporary measure. But the latest closure could last much longer.


Photo by Pat Davies.

Developer Saul Centers will tear down the shopping center and replace it with a new apartment building. At a pre-construction meeting last week, representatives from Saul told the community that the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk alongside the construction zone will be closed for two years. DDOT regulations won't allow a covered walkway because of underground construction that was too close to the street.

Instead, pedestrians would have to cross to the west side of Connecticut at Albemarle and Windom. By last Saturday, Saul had already closed off the sidewalk, and it was clear how dangerous this situation was going to be.

I saw a blind man walking north in the street and a man with a toddler on his shoulders coming toward him. Of course, the blind man could not see the large sign announcing the closed sidewalk, but the father definitely could.

ANC commissioner Sally Gresham was also out on Saturday afternoon and spent an hour monitoring "how folks were dealing with" the sidewalk closure. "The results are very scary!" she wrote. Gresham counted 102 people walking on Connecticut Avenue itself, including 6 young teenagers on skate boards, 22 strollers with 1, 2, or 3 adults, 35 people carrying bags of groceries or small children, 26 elderly people, and 13 people using canes, walkers, or leg braces.

Luckily, this was the weekend, and parked cars did provide something of a buffer between traffic and pedestrians. But I wondered about the march of pedestrians on automatic pilot during the Monday morning rush hour.

When asked if there will be a police presence to monitor the situation, Commander Reese of the 2nd Police District said the agency would pay attention to it, but did not have enough officers to have them out on the street.

On Monday morning between 8:30 and 9 a.m., I decided to take a look. Most pedestrians were crossing where they should:


All photos by the author unless noted.

But there were quite a number crossing mid-block and walking in the street.


People crossing mid-block on Connecticut Avenue.


People walking in the street.

And with no police in sight. I forgot they were only monitoring the situation.

I emailed the photos to DDOT, and Director Terry Bellamy replied, "I am alerting our Public Space Team to investigate and make recommendations." According to Saul Centers' Kimberly Miller, construction superintendent "Jason" met with DDOT inspectors, who noted that pedestrians weren't following the posted signs, but that the project still complied with DDOT requirements.

This is not a satisfactory outcome. After pondering the issue, and thinking of the places I have traveled that control pedestrian crossings a lot better than we do, the solution came to me on my afternoon walk. I went home and dashed off another email proposing that pedestrian path be controlled through fencing that allows people to enter stores but prevents pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.

New legislation may also improve pedestrian safety around construction sites as well. The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which will take effect December 20, requires anyone seeking permits from DDOT to block a sidewalk or bike lane to also provide a "safe accommodation" for pedestrians and bicyclists to use instead.

As of today, the sidewalk is open again, but it's unclear for how long. Will the council's new legislation make a difference for pedestrians on Connecticut Avenue over the next two years? We will keep you posted.

A version of this post appeared on Forest Hills Connection.

Pedestrians


DDOT sidewalk gap policy has gaps of its own

Sidewalks are a network to get us from one place to another, just like roads. But the procedures DDOT uses to identify and fill sidewalk gaps take a piecemeal approach that sets up barriers to completing the network.


Photo by the author.

Currently, DDOT requires that 51% of households on a single block approve the addition of a sidewalk, and that the neighborhood ANC file a corresponding resolution. If we consider sidewalks to be roadways for pedestrians, then we need to treat them as such. The default position should be that neighbors have to put forth the effort to oppose a sidewalk, instead requiring supporters to petition for one.

In other words: If folks wanted a sidewalk, they would contact DDOT, and those who opposed it would have to organize against it. The community would have to jump through fewer hoops to get a sidewalk built.

The DC Council's Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010 moves us in this direction, but DDOT needs to update its procedures.

Iona's Pedestrian Advocacy Project has studied the issue and has come up with a set of proposed procedures. In addition, we will request that DDOT develop a 5-year plan to fill sidewalk gaps in priority areas throughout the District of Columbia, as part of the agency budget to be presented to the Council during its budget approval process this spring.

  1. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on both sides of all "main streets," defined as those that have on-going traffic throughout the day and require pedestrians to walk in the street or cross at unsafe locations to a sidewalk.
  2. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on at least one side of the street on roadways under construction, as specified in Section 2 (a) of the Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010, and on roadway segments for which residents have petitioned for sidewalks.
  3. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on at least one side of the street within one-quarter mile of priority areas: schools, recreation and park facilities, and transit stops.
  4. For streets within priority areas not undergoing construction, 75% of residents on a block may petition NOT to have a sidewalk. The ANC for the area shall consider the petition and forward its recommendation to DDOT. DDOT shall determine whether the absence of a sidewalk presents a pedestrian safety issue or conflicts with an ADA requirement that cannot be resolved without a sidewalk.
  5. For those streets that do not have a sidewalk on either side due to engineering issues: If the residents have petitioned for no sidewalks and their request is approved by DDOT, the speed limit on that street will be lowered to 15 MPH.
  6. Residents may submit petitions to the ANC at any time to register their opposition to a sidewalk on their block.
  7. DDOT will notify all residents of these new procedures.
  8. DDOT will keep a record, including the dates, of these petitions on their website for five years, after which they will no longer be in force.
  9. DDOT will update the sidewalk gap map as gaps are filled.
What do you think? You can rate and comment on these procedures on a survey we have set up. Please do so by March 1st, so we can consider your input and include it when the pedestrian advocacy group presents the proposals to DDOT at the end of March.

Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.

Pedestrians


Where in Ward 3 needs sidewalks most?

Sidewalks are more than a way to get from one place to another on foot. They connect us to our neighbors and neighborhoods. And they become even more crucial as we age.


Children from the Franklin Montessori School enjoy the new sidewalk on Brandywine Street. Photo by George Branyan.

Iona Senior Services has spearheaded a pedestrian advocacy effort to focus on filling priority sidewalk gaps in Ward 3. This effort and has focused on updating the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT)'s 2008 map of sidewalk gaps for Ward 3 and proposing new procedures for closing gaps.

The Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010, initiated by Councilmember Mary Cheh, establishes routes to schools, recreation and park areas, and transit stops as priority areas for filling in missing sidewalks. And when streets with no sidewalks are due for reconstruction or new curbs and gutters, the law requires building a sidewalk on at least one side.

Sharon Bauer, a former traffic analyst from Austin, Texas, with the assistance of DC Office of Planning, has put in many hours of work to update the DDOT map. She based her changes on the latest Google Street View data. The map includes quarter-mile radius zones (light blue circles) around schools, recreation areas and Metro stops. This is an approximately 5 to 10-minute walk, which we propose as the highest priority areas for filling missing sidewalks.

We have three categories of streets denoted by different colors:

We need your input

If you live, work, or spend time in Ward 3, please download the PDF file of the map and zoom into the areas you are familiar withyour ANC, schools, etc.

Focus particular attention on priority areasthe quarter-mile circles around significant pedestrian features such as schools, Metro stops, rec centers and playgrounds.

Check for inaccuracies on the map, especially the streets marked in RED (no sidewalk on either side) and GREEN (partial sidewalk on one or both sides or difficult to tell).

Then, go to this survey form to provide feedback or recommendations for areas that should receive high priority for sidewalk installation, or in some cases, point out areas where no sidewalk is needed or reasonable. You may also email your feedback to use at info@foresthillsconnection.com.

Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.

Transit


Taxis could make paratransit service cheaper

WMATA's MetroAccess paratransit service has become too expensive for both its clients and the governments that fund it, and has suffered from some serious problems with its service. Using more taxis to transport persons with disabilities could decrease costs and improve service quality.


Photo by dominiccampbell on Flickr.

People with certain disabilities qualify for Metro Access service. Riders pay twice the quickest fixed-route transit fare, up to a maximum of $7 per ride. But that doesn't cover the cost of a trip. To cover the rest, the local jurisdiction pays WMATA $45 for each trip.

WMATA will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) on March 31 for new paratransit operators. But if the RFP follows the original proposal, it will make a big mistake: It would restrict taxis to serve no more than 5% of paratransit trips.

MetroAccess is saddled with a poor customer service record. At a town hall meeting this past October, MetroAccess customers complained about poor treatment by drivers and call dispatchers, poor routing, long waits for pick up and drop off, and vehicle breakdowns. On a couple of occasions, clients of Iona Senior Services' Alzheimer's Day Program were dropped off at the wrong location, and it took hours to locate them. WMATA can do better than this, and taxis could help.

MetroAccess head Christian Kent has crafted a plan to fix the quality of MetroAccess service. Instead of having one vendor bid on the whole package of services, as in the previous contract, the RFP lets vendors bid separately to run the call center, the fleet services, and quality assurance.

Most jurisdictions of similar size do the same. Experts I spoke to feel that this is the best approach, especially having a different vendor handle quality assurance from the one(s) actually running the service.

But one piece of the plan does not make sense: decreasing taxi use from 20%, as specified in the old contract, to only 5%.

Research (cited at bottom) is clear that taxi paratransit services can be less costly than standard ADA paratransit:

  • In 2005, Arlington County's taxi paratransit cost $20.50 per trip, versus $35 for WMATA.
  • San Francisco's taxi paratransit costs $15-$18, versus $40 for Muni paratransit.
  • Houston's ADA taxi service per hour is $32.10, versus $42.65 for paratransit van service.
  • 50% of jurisdictions surveyed reported taxis saved money for transit agencies.
Beyond cost savings, there are other advantages. The taxi system has more flexibility. Taxis are there when you need them, can handle a trip without needing to know the day ahead of time, often come quickly, and force riders to wait less. They provide a safety net for peak service times, and fill in gaps in coverage. And customers like the direct, exclusive ride.

There are also challenges with using taxis. Some try to defraud the transit service. It's hard to monitor it, and drivers don't have as much training as the van services. Christian Kent cites these as reasons to decrease the amount of taxi use in the system.

Nevertheless, Arlington paratransit manager Steve Yaffe makes a strong case for taxi use. His system uses taxis to provide 50% of its paratransit service. He has demonstrated that the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

Yaffe said,

I recognize the difficulty in finding taxi vendors with sufficient internal controls and oversight over training, maintenance and accounting. Another difficulty with using taxis for this type of service is the dearth of jurisdictional reciprocity privileges for taxis being used to transport people with disabilities. However, new business models are being developed and have been implemented elsewhere to get around these obstacles and provide the necessary level of accountability and service oversight. The Metro Access RFP should not preclude the flexibility to increase future levels of taxi participation.
DC disability advocates testified at a January hearing on taxi service, chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), about the importance of providing more wheelchair-accessible taxis and drivers with training to serve those with disabilities. When I talked to Cheh about the possibility of the MetroAccess RFP reducing the use of taxis, she acknowledged that this appears to move in the wrong direction.

Instead of defining a percentage of taxi use for the system, WMATA should include specific quality standards for taxis. This will give all the jurisdictions the flexibility to improve quality, so that taxis can provide services for Metro Access users. This could lead to lower costs and better quality. 22 senior service providers in the District signed off on this recommendation. We hope Christian Kent listens.

Research citations:
Arndt, J. & Cherrington, L. (2007). The Role of Private-For-Hire Vehicles In Transit In Texas. Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
Burkhardt, J. (2010). Potential Cost Savings from taxi paratransit programs. Institute of Transport Studies (Monash). Social Research in Transport Clearinghouse.
Burkhardt, J., Doherty, J., Rubino, J., Westat, & Yum, J. (2008). A Survey On The Use of Taxis in Paratransit Programs. Easter Seals Project Action. Retrieved from www.projectaction.org
Chapman, Koffman, Pfeiffer, & Weiner (2010). Funding the Public Transportation Needs of an Aging Population. American Public Transportation Association.

Pedestrians


Speed kills. Traffic cameras save lives.

More and better traffic enforcement is key to reducing pedestrian crashes along our main streets. Last week, Mayor Gray announced that he is giving the green light to a new set of traffic cameras which MPD has been trying to buy for over a year. This is great news for DC pedestrians.


Photo by ell brown on Flickr.

Older folks are at particular risk in crossing our streets, such as Connecticut Avenue, because speed kills. A driver traveling 30 mph who hits a pedestrian is only 45% likely to kill that person, but at just 10 mph faster, the odds jump to 85%. For seniors, the risk is even greater.

Seniors feel very vulnerable crossing the street, because drivers don't wait for them to cross when making right- and left-hand turns. And, of course, there are those cars that blast through red lights. In fact, most pedestrians hit by drivers are struck when in the crosswalk and crossing legally with the light.

Pedestrians will welcome any measures to slow down cars, make drivers stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and clear the box so that parents crossing the street to take their small children to their preschool don't have thread their way through the cars blocking the intersection and the crosswalks.

Lisa Sutter, head of photo enforcement for DC's Metropolitan Police Department, first presented her photo enforcement program to the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council in December or 2010. I thought Santa had delivered the absolute best Christmas presents. The new cameras will catch violators not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, speeding through red and green lights, and blocking the box.

Ms. Sutter has the proof. She collects data on how her cameras affect driver behavior.


Cameras work. Drivers slow down and stop going through red lights. Plus, revenues drop over time.

Many of the complaints against cameras, such as those from AAA, say that the measure is just a play for revenue. But it is not really a good revenue source once drivers learn and begin to follow the law. Maybe new cameras would help plug a budget gap this year, but DC will not be able to count on a lot of revenue over time. What they can count in is safer streets.

Look at Connecticut Avenue north of Chevy Chase Circle. The cars go the speed limit. As a pedestrian who has had many near misses, I am all for it. And I drive a car, as well.

Besides, we all want safer streets, and we need to invest the resources to get there. If an effective method pays for itself and provides funding for more expansion, should we not support it?

Each pedestrian killed costs $3.84 million (in 2005 dollars) from losing wages and productivity, medical expenses, motor vehicle damage and employers' insurance costs. A pedestrian injury costs $52,900 (also in 2005 dollars, according to the National Safety Bureau.)

Aren't these fines a small price to pay to reduce crashes?

ANCs 3C and 3F passed a resolution in favor of photo enforcement, and other ANC's across the city are considering similar actions. It is time to view the risk of bodily harm from the traffic violations on our streets as we do the risk from crime. In fact, the risk is greater.

In their report of Traffic Safety in the New Millennium, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote, "More people are killed and injured and the economic losses to society are greater from traffic crashes than that from crime."

It's long past time to install more traffic cameras and make our streets safer. Mayor Gray took the right step, and the DC Council should approve the program as part of this year's budget.

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