Greater Greater Washington

Crash shows need for safer crossings; is NPS listening?

A three-car crash last Thursday morning at a trail crossing on the George Washington Parkway once again highlights the need for the National Park Service to take action on critical safety improvements.

A driver stopped for a cyclist crossing the parkway at a marked crosswalk, but when an approaching pickup truck did not slow down, the cyclist hesitated. It very well could have saved her life; the nasty rear-end crash resulted in two injuries. An eyewitness captured the aftermath on video:


Image from Facebook. If you can't see the video, try logging into and/or refreshing Facebook first.

Trail users and parkway drivers can both attest to the constant danger at these crossings.

Solutions to these problems exist that would make the George Washington Memorial Parkway safer for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. But is the National Park Service interested in implementing them?

At least five unsignalized crossings are located near Memorial Bridge. Many of them cross two lanes, putting pedestrians in danger of a "double threat" when one lane of traffic has stopped but drivers in the other lane are unable to see the pedestrian in the crosswalk. Drivers hesitate to stop at all, as high speeds and heavy traffic on the parkway put them at risk of rear-end crashes like Thursday's.

Although the video suggests a tunnel, there is a simpler, less expensive solution that NPS can implement relatively quickly: HAWK signals, which Alexandria and the District have begun installing. HAWK signals are activated by the crosswalk user and installed at locations where a traditional stop light would not meet traffic engineering standards.

Research has shown that HAWK signals are not only more effective than other traffic signals at getting motorists to safely stop at the crosswalk, they reduce traffic delay compared to traditional signalized mid-block pedestrian signals.

Since being included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices in 2009, HAWK signals have been installed across the nation. A news report from Providence, Rhode Island, explains how a HAWK signal works at one of that city's most dangerous crossings:

At crossings on the GW Parkway, HAWK signals could be implemented in combination with vehicle stop lines that are farther from the crosswalk. This would improve visibility for all users and reduce the likelihood of a "double threat" crash, resulting in a significant safety improvement for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.

The recent Humpback Bridge construction resulted in significant improvements for Mount Vernon Trail users, and it shows NPS understands the trail is a significant reason to use the park. It's now time NPS made these critical safety changes a priority for all users of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Stephen Miller lived in the District from 2008 to 2011 and is now a student at Pratt Institute's city and regional planning masters program. 

Comments

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How about a contest to redesign the crossings for the GW parkway? The current setup is unclear about when drivers are supposed to yield. When somone slams on their breaks to let trail users thtat are waiting to cross creates a very dangerous situation.

by TGEOA on Jul 25, 2011 10:19 am • linkreport

What the heck. If I was driving and saw a HAWK, I'd seriously have no idea what the light pattern meant.

I think the real problem is that a road that is otherwise built as a grade-separated highway has a pedestrian/cycling crossing at-grade.

(And, mind you, I think that the GW parkway is a rather nice road, if not a tad confusing. However, it functions very differently than what most motorists are accustomed to.)

by andrew on Jul 25, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

@TGEOA

The current setup is unclear? Unclear maybe since drivers don't actually know any of the rules they should have learned when they were 16. If there's someone waiting to cross in a crosswalk, you stop!

But yeah, I'm not surprised drivers don't stop, as this is basically what would otherwise be a grade-separated highway (with those type of speeds and more) with at-grade unsignalized crosswalks. If you do stop, you risk the type of collision that happened here. It surprises me that there aren't more accidents and more people aren't killed.

@andrew
Why is the light pattern confusing? It's the same as a stoplight (yellow prepare to stop, red stop, blinking red treat as stop sign). The only difference is that people might not expect the signal on what is essentially a freeway, but once it's there people will get used to it.

by MLD on Jul 25, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

Some discussion on this intersection was also on the Washington Area Bike forum: http://bikearlingtonforum.com/showthread.php?964-Stop-signs-at-crosswalks-Do-you-yield-to-cars/page5

by JDAntos on Jul 25, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

@MLD

You are incorrect. Code requires drivers to yield to pedestrians within a crosswalk, which by definition is part of the road.

by TGEOA on Jul 25, 2011 10:37 am • linkreport

MLD wrote:

If there's someone waiting to cross in a crosswalk, you stop!
---------------------------

I'm pretty sure in regards to the crossings on the GW parkway that this notion is incorrect. A driver is not supposed to yield to a crosswalk unless explicitly directed to do so by a light or sign.

by Fitz157 on Jul 25, 2011 10:37 am • linkreport

It's an absolute cluster to have a high speed highway with uncontrolled pedestrian priority crossings. It's extremely poorly thought out design. No matter how many shiny signs you put out, human beings will not be alert enough on a windy stretch of road like that to see a car stopped dead in it's tracks and not have *someone* rear end someone else. It's a complete failure to obey basic principles of human-environment-machine engineering.

Either go back to having no pedestrian priority crosswalks, in which case pedestrians wait for a safe gap in the cars, or put a traffic light there.

Otherwise you'll continue to have knuckleheads stop in the middle of a 40+ mph freeway to allow bikes/peds to pass, and other drivers who aren't so generous or alert flying by or slamming on the brakes. The current design is the worst of all worlds.

The original sin is really with the motorist who unexpectedly stopped the flow of traffic to allow the bicyclist to pass, but then this is also a normal reaction to someone waiting at a pedestrian priority crosswalk.

by eb on Jul 25, 2011 10:38 am • linkreport

There is a HAWK light on Georgia Ave at Hemlock St NW in Shepherd Park, just south of Silver Spring. It has been there for about a year I think. It's very confusing (@MLD - aren't drivers supposed to STOP at an unilluminated stoplight?) and drivers all react to it very differently. I think this causes further traffic tangles and danger to peds.

Why can't they just be regular stop lights that behave as follows: blinking yellow at all times (indicating caution), then turn to solid yellow then red when a ped presses to walk? Then return to blinking yellow (skip the blinking red which no one understands and rolls through anyway).

by JMC on Jul 25, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

I think a HAWK signal might be a good idea, along with warning signs beforehand. The problem here is twofold: people aren't stopping for pedestrians/cyclists and when people do stop, they get rear-ended. A HAWK signal would solve the first one and partially solve the second one (it gets everyone on the same page as to whether you should stop there or not), and the warning signs would also help with the second one.

by Tim on Jul 25, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

Speaking about biking and walking around the Memorial Circle: It's a disaster because there is not clear way to get from one sidewalk of the bridge to the other. There is nothing on the cemetery side of the bridge, and on there Lincoln side you basically have to get around the monument. It is no surprise that many people, tourists and locals alike get confused on how to get around there.

by Jasper on Jul 25, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

@MLD. You can make all the law and order arguments you want about how drivers should know a set of rules, but it's quite easy to design a situation where the average human being can't physically be expected to make the proper decision in a split second. That's the whole point of traffic design: to take human frailty out of the equation, so that it doesn't come down to a split second decision over life and death.

Unfortunately, a long straight stretch of road with 40+ MPH speed limits and 6' high signs obscured by foliage and where grade crossings are rare is one of those situations where the average human isn't going to be capable of 100% compliance.

by eb on Jul 25, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

Say, does anybody know a decent way to contact the NPS about things like this?

by Jasper on Jul 25, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

@eb

Isn't the "original sin" with the designers of the road in relation to its crossings?

by Lucre on Jul 25, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport

I drive this stretch quite often. It's basically a highway. It's hard to see those waiting to cross and if you do, there is a good chance of this type of accident happening. These crossings should be treated as a two-way stop for the pedestrian. By doing so, the biker/pedestrian can judge when it's safe to cross between vehicles, most already do, illegally, on the other side of the bridge. I believe in this case the vehicle has the right of way. It's just safer.

by Parkway Driver on Jul 25, 2011 10:54 am • linkreport

@eb

I was specifically referring to the idea that the setup is "unclear." It's not unclear what you probably SHOULD do, it's designed horribly, which limits what you are able to do. As I said, I am unsurprised that people don't stop, as the whole situation is just dangerous.

by MLD on Jul 25, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

Hey c'mon, don't blame the NPS -- they're only following the law! You don't see HAWK signals in Shenandoah National Park, do you? What next, HAWK signals all over the Grand Canyon?? Why do you hate America?

by OX4 on Jul 25, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

This problem was made worse when NPS moved the crosswalk about 30 yards south of its old location. This was about 10 years ago I think.
Before, cars were slowing down to start the curve around the circle already, and so were more inclined to react to pedestrians. Ask any cyclist who has commuted there before and after: they will all tell you that the old location was much safer.
At the time, cyclists made known to NPS that they expected the new location to be less safe. Voila!

by Steve O on Jul 25, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

@eb:

So you're saying that the "original sin" is with the car that OBEYED THE LAW and stopped at a crosswalk? I think it's pretty hard to argue that car should have broken the law, which is basically what you're saying.

Legally, the fault is very clearly with the pickup truck driver. As plenty of people have pointed out, it's a bad design: anytime you have to choose between breaking the law and putting yourself in danger, that's a really bad design. So blame whoever put a crosswalk there, too. But blaming the driver who stopped? No.

by Rob on Jul 25, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

Talk about making a ridiculous mountain out of a molehill.

1. The vehicles do not have a stop or yield sign there on the GW Parkway. Trail users have a clearly marked stop sign.

2. There is a clear, flat quarter of a mile field of view from the crossing. Even at 60 mph you have a minimum of 15 or 20 seconds to cross, wait or get out of the way.

3. the GW parkway is one way. Is crossing it safely really that complicated?

Is there seriously a problem here. It is clear who has the ROW. If a car is dumb enough to sto pon a two lane road where they aren't supposed to, then that is their fault, but trying to get the NPS to spend gobs of money on grade seperated intersections, or signaling etc for a decidedly non-problem is just dumb.

by freely on Jul 25, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

I don't think a HAWK signal is going to be useful for this crossing.

The driver who stopped is the one responsible for this mess.

I don't remember when they moved -- or if they moved -- the intersection. Someone on washcycle had a good idea to narrow the road a bit more before the crosswalk. I don't think many people are going 60 though the crosswalk area, though. The bigger problem for drivers is you've got 2 difficult merges right before the crosswalk, and you're often paying more attention to your mirrors than what is right ahead of you.

Some of the traffic in the area will be diverted once the 110 trail opens.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

I use these crossings daily. Drivers are going way over the posted speed limit coming to and from the Memorial Bridge. I have never once seen anyone pulled over for speeding here in the many years I've frequented the area. The crossings need to be better signed at the very least. My suggestions are: "PEDESTRIAN CROSSING AHEAD" or "SLOW THE F*CK DOWN."

As for the other crossings where the speed limits are high -- most drivers just ignore them. Rear end collisions for the drivers that do honor the crosswalks are not isolated incidents either. They happen several times a year. The NPS is very good at managing traffic in their larger parks. I don't know why they can't figure things out here. My guess is that they don't want to piss off car drivers from Virginia.

by aaa on Jul 25, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

@MLD

If there's someone waiting to cross in a crosswalk, you stop!

Many people believe in this false assumption.

by TGEOA on Jul 25, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

@freely: I don't think you understand the law. There's a crosswalk there, which means drivers on the Parkway are required to stop for people using the crosswalk. Yes, there's also a stop sign for the trail, which means the trail users need to stop before crossing. But that stop sign doesn't somehow magically invalidate the crosswalk.

by Rob on Jul 25, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

I agree w/ JMC-the signal would be more widely understood by drivers and peds if it defaulted to blinking yellow when not in use by a ped. With a constant blinking red I don't understand how its different from a stop sign. When I drive and see a blinkung red I treat it like a stop sign. If the concept is for drivers to proceed with caution at the blinking red I can see how this will increase likelihood of a crash with a ped who assumes drivers will treat a blinking red like a stop sign, not that drivers will treat it like a yield sign (or a blinking yellow).

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

@ Rob,

Yes, drivers are to give ROW when trail users are "in the road", not standing to the side waiting.

As I said above, its a 2 lane rd (what, 16 feet wide?) with a ~20 second visual approach.

This isn't rocket science people. If a 20 second lead time isn't enough for people to spend 4 seconds crossing the road, then they have bigger problems.

Both the trail and road have clearly market signs. This is entirely the drivers fault and doesn't require us to spend tons of money fixing a non-existant problem.

by freely on Jul 25, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

@Tina - to clarify, the HAWK signal in its deactivated state is simply off - not illuminated at all. After the light has been solid red for a moment, allowing peds to cross, it then changes to blinking red for an interval before reverting to 'off'. I guess the idea is that peds who didn't finish crossing during the solid red will still have an opportunity, but I think this is kind of silly.

by JMC on Jul 25, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

What is the posted speed limit along that stretch of GW Parkway? Honk if you have ever honored that speed limit.

by Trulee Pist on Jul 25, 2011 11:37 am • linkreport

Yes, drivers are to give ROW when trail users are "in the road", not standing to the side waiting.

If you're making any of those crossings as a ped or bicyclist and relying solely on the good graces of the drivers not to be going too fast, you got more faith in both God and Humanity than I do.

by Kolohe on Jul 25, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

Not to restart the Holy War, but this whole debate really sheds some light on drivers assertions that cyclists are scofflaws, whereas drivers by and large "follow the laws". Here you have a ridiculously high speed limit, which is pretty much universally ignored by drivers, and that very fact used as a rationale for ignoring pedestrian right-of-way. It really is a pinata of irrational justification.

The entirety of the argument hinges on the unexamined premise that our public spaces are for cars. Period. Pedestrians should wait for some arbitrary amount of time, forfeiting their right-of-way because it's safer for everyone that way.

It's the same shit that you hear when drivers argue that travel lanes aren't safe for cyclists--after all we're only looking out for your best interests. I can only imagine the response if my attitude towards riding on the sidewalks was that I'll go as fast as I want to, and pedestrian safety be damned. They can find another sidewalk, or huddle on the periphery. Doing otherwise is dangerous for everyone involved. And we high-speed sidewalk cyclists just want to make sure everyone is safe. (What? That makes no sense because sidewalks aren't just for bikes?)

Here's an idea: Slow the fuck down, and obey the goddamned traffic laws. And to the NPS, start enforcing the damned laws. It's been decades of Mad Max rules out there.

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

I thought that the speed limit is actually ** 25 mph ** instead of 45 mph mentioned in Aron Kansal's video. At least that is what I believe he says during the video.

Google view of intersection with speed limit sign.

http://tinyurl.com/4yfxeym

Has anyone **ever** heard/seen a speeding ticket at that location of Washington Boulevard?

Or perhaps this will be a more interesting question: Has anyone ever seen anyone drive 25 mph at that location of Washington Boulevard?

by Geof Gee on Jul 25, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

@oboe

You can't forfeit what isn't yours in the first place.

by TGEOA on Jul 25, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

@freely/charlie:

In case you weren't familliar with it, Section 46.2-924 of the Virginia Code specifies that "The driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing such highway:

1. At any clearly marked crosswalk, whether at mid-block or at the end of any block;".

Given the pavement striping and signage, I'd say this crossing qualifies as "clearly marked". The driver who stopped is not responsible for the mess.

That said, I agree with Charlie in that a HAWK signal probably would not be useful here, nevermind that *ANY* sort of signal has zero chance of being allowed by NPS. Signals on a parkway are antithemic to them. Just ask Fairfax County and the Mt. Vernon District. They tried in the past to get a signal on the parkway at a couple of the problem intersections south of the Beltway, and got flat out told NO.

The only solution here is some sort of reconfiguration. Ultimately, the whole area would be reconfigured to reduce the confusion factor and allow for better bike connections to/from the bridge, but that would cost a lot of money and involve a lot of construction. Still, I came up with such a reconfiguration a couple years ago and I should probably get around to posting it one of these days.

by Froggie on Jul 25, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

@froggie; the intersection in question is in DC.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

@freely ...

I'm not a lawyer. But, FWIW, by my reading of the statute, a motor vehicle needs to stop for someone waiting at the side of the crosswalk. See point #2 below. Note that additional text in the link states that pedestrians can't cross in total disregard of vehicular traffic.

http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-924

A. The driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing such highway:

1. At any clearly marked crosswalk, whether at mid-block or at the end of any block;

2. At any regular pedestrian crossing included in the prolongation of the lateral boundary lines of the adjacent sidewalk at the end of a block;

3. At any intersection when the driver is approaching on a highway or street where the legal maximum speed does not exceed 35 miles per hour.

by Geof Gee on Jul 25, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

@Froggie;sorry, cut myself off. Even under Virginia law, there is a distinction between standing on the side of the road, and using the crosswalk. The pedestrian here was NOT using the crosswalk.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Speed limit on that section of the parkway is 40 MPH. It's 40 MPH from just north of Slaters Ln in Alexandria all the way to past Sprout Run. But the vast majority of drivers are going well in excess of that. I've estimated some drivers as high as 70 MPH.

by Froggie on Jul 25, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

@charlie: it may techincally be in DC, but it's patrolled by Virginia.

by Froggie on Jul 25, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

@Geoff Gee, good catch. But is that intersection on the parkway or Washington BLvd. Google maps has it as Wash Blvd, but I think that is incorrect.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

This is entirely the drivers fault and doesn't require us to spend tons of money fixing a non-existant problem.

So freely, your solution is for drivers to stop being stupid? Good luck with that. Does that involve you wiggling your nose or an arm-crossed head bob?

by David C on Jul 25, 2011 11:51 am • linkreport

@Froggie; does VA patrol it?

The reason I keep brining up this tiny procedural point is I've always suspected Columbia Island is unenforced for a reason -- Park Police don't want to deal with the hassle of jurisdictional conflicts. They are very aggressive around Rosslyn in terms of speed traps, and I've seen a number south of the airport as well.

Very possible there are other explanations.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

@charlie: this was on the parkway. That was made clear by the video.

And since it got brought up that this is in DC, DC Code's Section 50-2201.28 says basically the same thing as Virginia. Also, Charlie, as long as pedestrians are not entering the crosswalk so late that drivers can't stop, there's nothing requiring them to wait for traffic to clear.

by Froggie on Jul 25, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

I drive through there all the time, it scares me to death, each time I do it, because you never know when someone walking or riding a bike is going to come through, so I always make it a point to slow down when I see the green crosswalk signs, but so many people dont, so when I stop and people fly by me, it creates an even bigger hazard, I hope they do something new, and I'll learn the hawk signals! I agree with Andrew, I would have freaked seeing all the flashing lights.

by Jimmy on Jul 25, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

I'll quote someone on this

"In both DC and Virginia cyclists using a crosswalk have the rights and duties of pedestrians, and the only duty of a pedestrian at an uncontrolled crossing is to avoid entering the road so suddenly that traffic is unable to yield. The only traffic controls which apply to pedestrians are walk/don't walk lights, or traffic lights in their absence. The only way to remove pedestrian right of way at a cross walk is to install a traffic light. Traffic lights are expensive, so engineers try to circumvent the law by putting up stop signs, which leads to a dangerous situation where right of way is ambiguous."

by David C on Jul 25, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

@JMC- the HAWK signal in its deactivated state is simply off - not illuminated at all.

I agree this is confusing to drivers who, if they're doing it right, have been trained to treat "out" lights as four-ways stops. Peds too, for that matter. Whats the rationale for not having a blinking yellow as the default?

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

You know what would really help? Slowing the speed limit to 25mph on Columbia Island.

by David C on Jul 25, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

@Tina: A flashing yellow indicates "yield." Since a HAWK creates a signalized crossing, pedestrians are only allowed to cross when they have the "walking man" signal. If a driver were to yield to a ped at a flashing yellow light, the pedestrian would still have a "don't walk" signal. Making the signal dark when not in use eliminates that confusing situation.

by Stephen Miller on Jul 25, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

I've driven that stretch of the GW Parkway often. Thankfully, I've been there often enough to expect someone to try to cross the road and I therefor drive defensively.

Problems is, a road that was originally designed as a scenic drive has become a de-facto freeway because of significant population/job growth growth since the Parkway was built in the 1930's and the lack of another limited access route. It's one of the consequences of cancelling the planned freeways but that's another topic.

That said, the 45 mph speed limit (which many unfortunaltely treat as a suggestion) and the crosswalk at the location in question simply don't mix. Many if not most drivers don't expect anyone to cross a divded limited-access roadway and they don't expect anyone one to stop in the middle of trafffic to allow a cyclist or pedestrian to cross. I'm not defending the drivers, I'm just making note of the reality - some drivers go too fast and some don't pay enough attention to their surroundings.

Unless something is done to eliminate or reduce the inherent danger of placing a crosswalk in the middle of a 45mph divided, limited-access, unsignaled roadway, it's only a matter of time before someone gets killed. It's amazing that it hasn't already happened.

by ceefer66 on Jul 25, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport

@Tina - Whats the rationale for not having a blinking yellow as the default?

Great question... I have no idea! In regards to the HAWK light on Georgia Ave I contacted the councilmember here as well as DDOT to register concern but did not get a full explanation. There is a sign (same as in the Providence news video above) saying "Stop on Red ()" but I think that actually makes it MORE complicated and confusing. You've got a split second to evaluate these odd-looking lights, an ambiguous sign (of course you stop on Red, it's what to do the rest of the time that's confusing!) and people honking at you for slowing down.

by JMC on Jul 25, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport

Erk, my mistake. Flashing yellow is "caution," not yield, so Tina's question stands.

by Stephen Miller on Jul 25, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

The root of the problem is that there are crosswalks on a road where people regularly travel 60-70 mph (or more in some cases). There is no way that situation can be safe. I think the only way to make it safe is to reduce the speed limit to 25 or 35 everywhere around the bridge, add some rumble strips where the speed limit drops to warn drivers, and to put speed bumps before the crosswalks (or install raised crosswalks). Regardless of what the laws and signs tell drivers, some will always ignore them and won't slow down unless they are forced to. So in the interest of safety drivers sometimes have to be forced to slow down.

by Tim on Jul 25, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

@Stephen Miller - Erk, my mistake. Flashing yellow is "caution," not yield, so Tina's question stands.

Excatly; in small-town intersections you often see a two-way stop with a single hanging light showing flashing red to the stop signs and flashing yellow to the throughway.

by JMC on Jul 25, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

@froggie; yes, dc is substantially similar.

And by that analysis, and by David C's quote, the pedestrian did the right thing there. they avoided entered the road. The accident occurred because the driver decided to stop -- and stopped in an unsafe manner.

Geoff Gee's map shoes that stretch of road as Wash Blvd, not the parkway. IF I recall correctly, perhaps the parkway is the section that runs to Roosevelt island closer to the water?

The speed limit there, as David C suggests, should be 25.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

@Stephen Miller -...but it creates the confusion of what we've all been trained to do at lights that are "out", which is treat them as a stop signs.

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

@Charlie ...

To be honest, I have no idea whether that crossing is the GW PKWY or Washington Blvd. Moreover, I can't tell you whether VA or DC motor vehicle code applies ... I've never seen traffic enforcement there.

But the previous speed limit sign -- from the link I included earlier, I believe you can see the intersection we're discussing on the right -- is pretty close. Which speed limit -- 25 or whatever GW PKWY is there -- applies will take someone with more knowledge than me. Personally, if traffic enforcement slowed everyone down to 25 mph at that point, I'd be happy since most drivers would only gradually accelerate towards GW PKWY.

-G

by Geof Gee on Jul 25, 2011 12:11 pm • linkreport

" as long as pedestrians are not entering the crosswalk so late that drivers can't stop, there's nothing requiring them to wait for traffic to clear."

Froggie is correct to a point. Pedestrians are required to obey signs and signals as well. The Stop on the sides of the roads requires the pedestrians to yield right of way.

by TGEOA on Jul 25, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

Thought I'd throw in some documentation about the speed limit (40 MPH) and Right of way belonging to non-motorists.

From http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/parkmgmt/documents.htm:

Rules and Regulations

36 C.F.R. - Rules and regulations that apply to all National Park Service sites may be found in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations (Parks, Forests, and Public Property), Chapter I, Parts 1-199.

Park Compendium- A compendium is a list of park-specific rules and regulations. This list is used in combination with 36 C.F.R.

CFR 36 Chapter 1 § 4.20 Right of way.
An operator of a motor vehicle shall
yield the right of way to pedestrians,
saddle and pack animals and vehicles
drawn by animals. Failure to yield the
right of way is prohibited.

From the compendium:
4.21 Speed limits
Northbound
40 MPH from Abingdon Drive merge to Spout Run Parkway

by Shawn G on Jul 25, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

Erk, my mistake. Flashing yellow is "caution," not yield, so Tina's question stands.

Excatly; in small-town intersections you often see a two-way stop with a single hanging light showing flashing red to the stop signs and flashing yellow to the throughway.

Yes, if I said I thought blinking yellow meant "yield" I mis-spoke (wrote). It means "proceed with caution".

Its not just in rural towns I've encountered this; I see it in larger towns and cities that adjust the regular green-yellow-red-lights for times when there is less traffic volume (late at night/early morning/holidays) to blinking red on one side and blinking yellow on the other. I've never seen that around here and often thought it was stupid (but not stupid in the risk-taking sense).

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

If it is the case that the stretch really is Washington Blvd. instead of the GW PKWY, then my suggestion is that we all stop calling it the GW PKWY. One, the speed limits are different. Two, from a rhetorical perspective, the argument that motor vehicles should be traveling at a pedestrian friendly speed is more powerful on a non-freeway road.

by Geof Gee on Jul 25, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

@TGEOA: the stop sign is part of the problem...it creates a case of conflicting statutes as to who has right of way here, with no clear answer. Yes, the law says stop at a stop sign, but it also says that drivers yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at crosswalks such as this.

In case there's any lingering confusion, this (in the center) is the crosswalk in question.

by Froggie on Jul 25, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

@Geof Gee:
The video posted is about the intersection on the GW Parkway. Here is a link:
http://bit.ly/rlNm64

by Shawn G on Jul 25, 2011 12:27 pm • linkreport

FWIW, using Shawn G's link to the GW PKWY site, there is a map and it appears that the intersection in question is not part of the GW PKWY. In other words, it appears to agree with the Google Map link I sent earlier. This would suggest that the speed limit is indeed 25 mph ... no?

by Geof Gee on Jul 25, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Ahhhh ... I see. I just zoomed out from the map. I am one intersection closer to the Memorial Bridge. You and Charlie are right.

-G

by Geof Gee on Jul 25, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

@Froggie; Geoff Gee; OK, I might have had the wrong intersection here. That one Froggie clearly linked to is on the GW parkway. My bad. Sorry for any confusion.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

drivers yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at inside crosswalks

by TGEOA on Jul 25, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

@TGEOA
CFR 36 which governs right of way in NPS doesn't mention crosswalks.

Also, I'm curious as to where a stop sign applies to a pedestrian, and where they would give up their right of way at an intersection or crossing. I haven't come across that before.

by Shawn G on Jul 25, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

As someone who frequents the trails that cross the GW, my attitude is that i should wait for a gap in cars, not expect the cars to yield.

by dcseain on Jul 25, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

@Tina: Some of the lights in Pentagon City were programmed like that when I lived there in 2003. Perhaps they still are.

by Michael Perkins on Jul 25, 2011 1:02 pm • linkreport

@ShawnG; not sure if CFR governs here. NPS signed a compact with Virginia to enforce traffic laws on the VA side of the parkway. In DC, they have organic authority and can enforce DC law directly.

That might just deal with enforcement, and not placement.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 1:15 pm • linkreport

@charlie-
That Northbound section of the GW parkway is on Columbia Island, which is in DC.

I don't think this applies to this specific stretch of the GWP, but in this compact (citation?) is VA enforcing VA laws or NPS laws? I don't see why the CFR wouldn't apply as it's governed by the NPS, but I'm also not a lawyer or politico.

by Shawn G on Jul 25, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

It is kind off staggering to see such a lively debate on a fairly simple traffic situation: Stopping for a pedestrian in a cross-walk. Oddly, the truck not stopping for the stopped vehicle is ignored.

Aside from the poor design of the intersection at hand, does nobody wonder why there is such a feisty debate on such simple rules of the road? Perhaps more driver's ed is needed?

by Jasper on Jul 25, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

I strongly disagree with those who think the fault lies with the driver who stopped first and not the truck. In my 40+ years driving experience, the fault for a rear-ending is virtually always placed on the driver in the rear, for failure to keep a proper lookout. You never know when the traffic in front of you will slow or stop for any number of reasons. If this happens and you run into the car in front of you, it's YOUR fault.

by Christine on Jul 25, 2011 1:35 pm • linkreport

@ShawnG; I've been trying to track down the compact for years. If anyone else has a link...

36 CFR 4.2(a): State law governs vehicles unless otherswise...

the 4.20 section you cite is clearly meant for other NPS roads -- the vast network (100K miles) inside other park properties. The animals reference is a hint. So I'd argue state law prevails.

In terms of the (semi-mythical) compact is the the Park police using Virginia law on the Virginia sections, but in federal court. As you correctly note, in DC (and columbia island) they have full concurrent jurisdiction.

My earlier hypothesis, which is just that, is the jurisdictional confusion is one reason Park Police don't enforce traffic laws on Columbia Island very strictly.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

+1 Jasper & Christine

by Froggie on Jul 25, 2011 2:10 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: My earlier hypothesis, which is just that, is the jurisdictional confusion is one reason Park Police don't enforce traffic laws on Columbia Island very strictly.

I doubt it's a major reason. More likely, they're lazy or just don't care.

by Jasper on Jul 25, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

jurisdictional confusion is one reason Park Police don't enforce traffic laws on Columbia Island very strictly.

Park Police are very busy. They have to tase pedicab operators, remove journalists from taxi commission hearings, arrest people for dancing, question photographers, ruin the 4th of July for tourists and illegally shut down food trucks at Farragut Square. With all that on their plate, you think they have time to enforce traffic laws?

by David C on Jul 25, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

I understand why the Park Service might not want to put up a HAWK signal for appearance reasons, but I think such a signal might be a good idea. However, under the particular circumstances of that road, I also think that if it's practical to sync a HAWK signal with another sign, the HAWK signal in this case should be accompanied by an advance "prepare to stop when flashing" sign with the flashing yellow warning light; such signs are not at all uncommon on roads where you hit a signal that's either hard to see (say, due to a curve) or potentially unexpected due to it being a long time since the last light. In this particular case, the crossing comes shortly after a fork in the road in an area with trees on a slight curve, such that depending on its placement a HAWK signal might not be immediately noticeable. Regardless of any discussion about the speed that traffic "should" be going on that road, the fact is that the road is a relatively high-speed route such that if traffic is expected to be stopped, it's not a bad idea at all to provide advance notice. After all, a rear-ending might cause a lot more than just property damage if the struck vehicle slides into a cyclist or pedestrian (exactly what's theorized in the original article above). Unfortunately, any sort of advance signage with the warning light would just make the Park Service that much less likely to want to post something there.

I've seen a HAWK signal on Van Dorn Street in Alexandria (it's located down the hill from Seminary Road towards Landmark), but I've never seen the signal actually in use. It's there to help pedestrians cross the street to a bus stop. Unlike the GW Parkway spot, the Van Dorn Street HAWK is amply visible from a distance.

Regarding the crosswalks in the Memorial Bridge area, I try to stop for people crossing (especially if doing so will annoy an aggressive driver or cabbie behind me), but I think you also have to be practical about it: If it's a choice between annoying a pedestrian by failing to stop or getting rear-ended by someone approaching at high speed, then I'm going to annoy the pedestrian by failing to stop, and I'm sure just about everybody out there would do the same. I guess it's a rule of reasonableness in this case: Regardless of what you're "supposed to" do, the real world doesn't always operate according to the rules and you have to act according to the circumstances. Christine's post above talks about how the fault is usually with the driver who does the rear-ending. While that is correct most of the time, it's small consolation if your car is destroyed by such a driver or if you wind up injured or worse.

(Let's be realistic: They can post it at 25 mph, but people aren't going to go that slowly there, and law enforcement is never going to succeed in getting them to do so.)

by Rich on Jul 25, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

@ Rich:law enforcement is never going to succeed in getting them to do so

Hang a speed camera there, and start filling the NPS coffers with the fine money...

by Jasper on Jul 25, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

I understand why the Park Service might not want to put up a HAWK signal for appearance reasons,
right b/c blood and tissue stains and broken glass on the road are very aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps even historic.

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

Hang a speed camera there, and start filling the NPS coffers with the fine money...

Two problems with that theory:

(1) Once people know where the camera is, they do the same thing they do everywhere else: Slow down for the camera, then floor it. (Consider the one on 16th Street near the tennis center or the one on Benning Road near Langston Golf Course.) In some ways this is the bigger safety problem as to speed enforcement there--people just go faster to make up what they consider (rightly or wrongly, doesn't matter) to be "lost time." While it might promote pedestrian safety there, would it introduce a greater risk of other wrecks elsewhere, such as at the left-lane merge north of the bridge? (I don't know. I'm speculating.)

(2) If they don't want to put up a light for appearance reasons, the odds of a camera are probably slim as well, although who knows. There are/were two speed cameras on the GW Parkway, both inoperative--one just north of Reagan Airport on the northbound carriageway near the turnoff for Gravelly Point, the other just north of the turn for Parkway HQ near Turkey Run Park (I believe that one has been removed). But my gut tells me that the area around Memorial Bridge is one where they'd consider such things more objectionable for appearance reasons.

by Rich on Jul 25, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

@Jasper:

That's not how we do things around here. Don't want to die? Buy a car--or get the hell out of the way. That's one the cherished incentives of our Captialist paradise. Rule of law would only distort the market.

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

@Steve O (me, that is)
Sorry, I was referring to the next crossing up closer to the circle. I didn't watch the video until just now.

by Steve O on Jul 25, 2011 3:16 pm • linkreport

@christine; you're referring to the tort standard.

I think the legal requirement is "failure to control your vehicle" or "excessive speed"

So, in the insurance and/or civil portion you're quite correct. The pickup truck driver will likely be held liable. From the video, I'd suspect the pickup truck was NOT speeding as the damage to the two cars was not excessive. However, it is likely he will be cited (or should be) for failure to control.

That is slightly different that the more common usage of "fault" we are talking about here. The Park Service is at fault for having a bad design. The driver is at fault for stopping. George Washington is at fault for having built the road....

Legally, however, it useful to stop that chain somewhere and assign fault.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 3:18 pm • linkreport

@Rich:

Speed tables every 100 yards or so that will do serious suspension damage to every vehicle that exceeds the 25 mph speed limit should do the trick. Simple, cheap, easy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtK-lKRaA0A

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

Speed tables every 100 yards or so that will do serious suspension damage to every vehicle that exceeds the 25 mph speed limit should do the trick. Simple, cheap, easy.

I think the chances of that happening on the GW Parkway are similar to the chances of $100 bills falling out of my rear end when I sit on the toilet. :-)

The whole area in question is rather poorly-designed for the use those roads now receive (and I mean that as to both drivers and users of the various trails). I doubt there's really ANY ideal solution given the conflicting concerns regarding commuters, recreational users, historic considerations such as the design of Memorial Bridge,* and the Park Service's desire to keep it looking as much like a scenic parkway as possible.

*The ideal, in the case of the crosswalk at issue in this discussion, would be a new bike/pedestrian ramp directly from the trail up to the bridge, but we all know that's not going to happen.

by Rich on Jul 25, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtK-lKRaA0A

I only watched this after submitting my previous comment. Funny stuff. Those drivers need a Dixie horn so they can yell "yee-ha" as they go over that bump.

by Rich on Jul 25, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

Erk, my mistake. Flashing yellow is "caution," not yield

Unless you're in Dupont Circle, where it does mean "Yield"...

by andrew on Jul 25, 2011 3:46 pm • linkreport

I like the idea of 25 mph advance speed hump with warning rumble strips and signage. No intrusive light structures to annoy the sensibilities of NPS, slow enough to prevent rear ending (hopefully) and allow time for peds/cyclists and drivers to interact more safely.
Plus design changes work 24/7, unlike enforcement.

by Steve O on Jul 25, 2011 3:46 pm • linkreport

As a pedestrian/bicyclist, i care not how slow or fast traffic on a road i'm crossing is moving. I do, however, care very much that all the cars are moving at about the same speed, so that gaps occur allowing me to cross. One car going notably slower or faster makes it nigh impossible to cross, especially if there is volume.

by dcseain on Jul 25, 2011 3:49 pm • linkreport

@ Rich:Once people know where the camera is, they do the same thing they do everywhere else: Slow down for the camera, then floor it.

Hang 5 in a row. Rosslyn has a bunch of red light cameras in a row. It can be done. It has been done. It's a matter of will, not ability.

If they don't want to put up a light for appearance reasons, the odds of a camera are probably slim as well

You can paint cameras, and hide them pretty well. Again, will, not ability.

@ oboe: That's not how we do things around here. Don't want to die? Buy a car--or get the hell out of the way.

I know, I know. Bee here long enough. However, I am just protesting the notion that it can not be done. It can be done, because it has been done. I'm not saying that means that it will be done here.

After all, what's the life of a few pedestrians worth? Certainly not me being 30 seconds later.

by Jasper on Jul 25, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

To add a thought. On the beltway of Rotterdam, they take a picture when you get on the beltway and when you get off. They then calculate your average speed. Takes away the argument that someone was just passing, or going with the flow for a second.

by Jasper on Jul 25, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Jasper:

They have average speed cameras in England as well. The funny thing is, whenever you talk to people about speed cameras, it's always, "It's a revenue scheme!" or "It's more dangerous because people (not me, of course) will just slam on their brakes, then floor it!" The list of excuses goes on and on.

Then you bring up something like average speed camera enforcement, which would allow you to enforce reasonable speeds in neighborhoods (not out on NY Ave, or some quasi-highway road), without all those drawbacks, and it turns out there are a million different reasons why *that's* a bad idea too. (Big Brother!!)

It's almost as though people just want to be allowed to drive however they want, and damn the danger to pedestrians and other road users.

I agree with you, though, it can be done. There's just no political will. That's because folks like to be able to break the law with impunity once they're behind the wheel. The most encouraging aspect of living in DC is that a) residents are self-selecting for a less auto-centric environment; and b) we've got the political isolation to avoid having a bunch of rural interests interfere with policy.

In a decade or so, the ongoing demographic shift will result in folks who like suburban living moving to the suburbs, and folks who like urban living moving to the city (i.e. DC, Alexandria, Clarendon, Silver Spring, etc...). DC is likely to pass the most pedestrian friendly laws of the region.

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

Where I grew up, in Singapore, the norm was that if a pedestrian was even approaching a marked pedestrian crossing, you stopped. In the U.S., the norm seems to be more like the driver stops only if the pedestrian is in the crossing - and during times of heavy traffic or across major roads like Wisconsin avenue, this creates an obvious chicken and egg situation. Personally, I think that the norms should change, but that we also should put things like HAWK lights at the appropriate crossings, instead of relying on norms.

I've ridden through those crossings before. On the occasions where one driver stopped, I waved them on - until and unless the driver in the far lane also stopped. I thought it was only a matter of time until something like the above happened.

by Weiwen on Jul 25, 2011 5:10 pm • linkreport

@Weiwen-

The norm varies a lot across different places in the U.S. I've lived in some places in the U.S. where the norm is similar to what you describe in Singapore: people stop if there's a pedestrian even approaching the crossing. I've lived in other places where the norm is not to stop unless you absolutely must in order to avoid hitting the pedestrian. The difference seems to be enforcement: in places where the police regularly ticketed cars that didn't stop, the norm was to stop. I bet Singapore enforces the law, and that's why people are so good about obeying it.

In DC, of course, they never enforce any traffic laws. So the norm is not to stop -- and if any pedestrian dares to enter a crosswalk, you honk while driving around him.

by Rob on Jul 25, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

I've seen the average speed check system on the M4 in a construction zone. I'm not aware of anywhere in the US that uses it.

But regarding the idea of putting up a series of cameras, I was trying to approach the question from the standpoint of what the Park Service would consider reasonable. For example, I think most people here seem to agree that putting up a conventional traffic light there is not a reasonable option (given that nobody's suggested it). I have a feeling that the idea of putting up a series of speed cameras is something that the Park Service would not consider reasonable, regardless of whether it's a question of "will versus ability." There are a lot of things that we have the "ability" to do that are not "reasonable."

(I recently read a book called "The Big Roads" by Earl Swift about the history of the Interstate Highway System. One of the things he mentioned was the absurd scheme the US and California governments hatched to use atomic bombs to excavate a path for I-40 and a railroad through the Bristol Mountains. I suppose they had the "ability" to detonate 22 A-bombs, but I'm glad they realized it was unreasonable.)

by Rich on Jul 25, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport

This sounds like a crappy place to put an unsignalled crosswalk, and perhaps the road speed, lack of calming makes it extra crappy for it.

Having said this, it really doesn't matter what the law is--people only stop for pedestrians at crosswalks if they want to. And, it turns out, most don't. Plain and simple.

by ed on Jul 25, 2011 6:54 pm • linkreport

When I'm crossing at that crosswalk, I get off my bike saddle and stand there looking at my phone, pretending to be doing something important -- and doing my best to appear to NOT be impatiently waiting for a gap in traffic. Eventually, a good gap appears, and I cross.

I don't trust drivers to not be looking down, and even if someone wants to stop for me, I don't trust the drivers behind THEM to notice, either. I don't want to cause an accident like the one in the original video.

Look, I'm in no hurry to cross. If I were, I'd be sprinting -- or driving.

by Leland on Jul 25, 2011 7:43 pm • linkreport

This is difficult enough crossing on the weekend, I can only imagine it during rush hours during the week. Cyclists really have to take some responsibility and chose wisely where and when you cycle. But I guess if you think its okay to cycle to work using paths constructed for recreational purposes, you're not going to care how others are affected by your actions. These paths were added as a nice additional recreational element to what was built as a parkway for CARS. Use this recreational path in the wrong way, and we'll probably lose it altogether. But heck what do you care? It's not about what's good for everyone ...

by Lance on Jul 25, 2011 10:11 pm • linkreport

So reading the post at 10:11, if I am a pedestrian or cyclist crossing in the crosswalk at that location and a speeding driver in a car threatens my well being, it is my fault?

by William on Jul 25, 2011 10:15 pm • linkreport

Lance I absolutely agree with you. I too think we ought to slow the speed limit on the GW Parkway to 25mph, change the law to allow bikes on the Parkway, take out one lane of the Parkway and put in a bike lane. Good idea.

by David C on Jul 25, 2011 10:16 pm • linkreport

A traffic signal on this stretch of parkway? Gotta be joking. Again, this was built as a parkway so that Americans can enjoy that vista. Altering it for an individual group with specialized interests isn't in the cards.

by Lance on Jul 25, 2011 10:22 pm • linkreport

Lance, you are knocking it out of the park today. What a great idea. This was built as a parkway so that Americans can enjoy that vista, not a way for people to get to work or for transportation. Let's put an end to the misuse by closing every entrance to the Parkway but one, and add a turnaround at the other end. That way people can enter the parkway and enjoy the vista at 25mph by both car and bicycle without all those obnoxious commuters.

by David C on Jul 25, 2011 10:38 pm • linkreport

@charlie

I'm confused by your argument that the driver who stopped did something wrong. I don't know what the DC law is, but the VA law says that drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing highways at marked crosswalks. This was a marked crosswalk, so it like stopping was the proper thing to do. The only exception to that would be if the driver had to slam on the brakes. Maybe that's what happened, but I kind of doubt it since the second driver stopped fine. And, even if the first driver did slam on the brakes, you're not suppose to be following people so close that you can't stop in time.

So, what did the first driver do wrong?

by Andy R on Jul 25, 2011 10:46 pm • linkreport

Last time I checked, many cyclists and pedestrians enjoying the vista were also Americans.

Fancy that.

by William on Jul 25, 2011 10:48 pm • linkreport

+1 David C

If the parkway is for people to enjoy the vista they shouldn't be driving 50+ MPH on it commuting to work.

by MLD on Jul 25, 2011 10:50 pm • linkreport

LOL ... I'm surprised non of you picked up on my obvious reference to the NPS statement made last week in regard to CaBi stations on the Mall.

In all seriousness though, these parkways really were conceived and designed for the purpose of commuters enjoyment at 50 miles plus per hour. Seriously, like the Interstate system which developed from these parkways, they were never intended to be used by pedestrians or any traffic other than motorized traffic. It's nice that the Park Service has added in the recreational trails, but note that that was done in a way that didn't compromise the purpose of these highways. Adding in traffic lights would. No different than if you proposed adding traffic lights on the Interstates. Though something tells me some of you would advocate that. It's all part of the car hating ...

by Lance on Jul 26, 2011 7:38 am • linkreport

Lance, relating your comments from 10:11pm last night and your latest one this morning, you're very much in error on one part: the parkway was designed and built in the early 1930s, long before there were a lot of people in northern Virginia and even longer before the notion that we all had to use our cars to commute.

In simpler terms: like you noted with the bike trails, these parkways were designed and built for the purpose of recreation, NOT for the purpose of commuting. Nevermind that the only segment with a design speed of 50 MPH is west of Sprout Run, not the segment in question here.

by Froggie on Jul 26, 2011 7:53 am • linkreport

@Andy R; I doubt any of us have all the facts. From the video, it looks as if three cars were involved. We are all assuming car 1, then car 2, came to a stop then car 3 (pickup) rear ended all of them.

My argument in terms of fault is car 1 should NOT have stopped for the pedestrian because said pedestrian was NOT on the crosswalk, but on the side of the road. Pedestrian behaved correctly and was waiting for a break in the traffic. What happened with car 2 (did they stop as well, slow down, etc) is unclear. Then car 3 (pickup) rears ends both of them.

It all it very pedantic, and given that nobody died, I doubt any effort will be put into sorting it out. If I was the officer on the scene, I've give tickets to everyone and let them sort it out in court and the insurance adjusters. The reason the fault question is important, however, is the continuing contributory negligence regime in place in VA and DC.

If this was a contested accident, would the first car be even 1% responsible? I'd say a reasonable judge or jury could find that.

by charlie on Jul 26, 2011 8:16 am • linkreport

@froggie, actually wasn't that section all part of the pentagon road system -- predating the parkway - and designed explicitly for automobiles and then a bit later to move traffic into the pentagon?

by charlie on Jul 26, 2011 8:19 am • linkreport

I totally agree with Lance's post at 10:11. Of course cyclists shouldn't use recreational paths to commute. Also, if Charlie is correct, then cyclists are negligent when using these crosswalks, and drivers who stop for them are contributing to accidents if or when they are rear ended.

So then, it seems that cyclists, both those "enjoying the vista," and those commuting, should abandon the paths and use the roadway.

by CJ on Jul 26, 2011 9:03 am • linkreport

Here's a history of parkways:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkway

Note that they were originally built as a way for the then city-concentrated motorists to get out to the country surrounding the cities ... with the commute reversing itself after the expansion of the suburbs, and with the commute now going both ways. In any case, these earlier version of our versions of our Interstates with their limited access were definitely created and designed with motorists in mind. And note what most differentiated them from anything that had become before was their by design 'only limited access' (i.e. buildings couldn't be built on them), no sidwalks, and definitely NO TRAFFIC lights ...

by Lance on Jul 26, 2011 9:10 am • linkreport

@CJ So then, it seems that cyclists, both those "enjoying the vista," and those commuting, should abandon the paths and use the roadway.

Actually, only using roadways where no-motorized traffic is allowed is the only caveat I have to add to your statement. You wouldn't expect a bike not capable of flowing with the traffic at traffic speed to be anymore allowed on a 35 or 50 mph parkway than you would on a 65 or 75 mph Interstate.

We're fortunate that the Park Service has bent the rules to allow us to have these recreational paths. Let's not risk losing them by insisting that the actual purpose of these roads be obstructed.

by Lance on Jul 26, 2011 9:16 am • linkreport

I don't know that I buy Lance's Wikipedia citation (setting aside the concern that Wikipedia is not generally a reliable source). Two of the oldest "parkways" I know of are Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, both of which are, and have long been, full of traffic lights, although they do a much better job of synchronizing the lights in a "green wave" than any DC-area agency does.

The problem is that you're treating "parkway" as a single type of road when in fact that term covers a large spectrum of highways. People in Pittsburgh misleadingly use the word "Parkway" in reference to a regular old Interstate highway (a substandard one, to be sure, but still an Interstate), whereas in New York "parkway" is a designator indicating that commercial traffic is prohibited rather than a description of a particular class of road.

To return to the GW Parkway crosswalk, though, I re-read the article above and I noted that one important piece of information is missing: Just how many pedestrian/cyclist accidents, and how many near-misses, occur there each year? In other words, a severe wreck of the sort shown in that video is a problem, but if that sort of wreck is a rarity there, a redesign might be an overreaction.

by Rich on Jul 26, 2011 9:23 am • linkreport

[quote]Lance, relating your comments from 10:11pm last night and your latest one this morning, you're very much in error on one part: the parkway was designed and built in the early 1930s, long before there were a lot of people in northern Virginia and even longer before the notion that we all had to use our cars to commute.[/quote]

Sure, but that's irrelevant. The truth of the matter is, drivers have taken over, and by their illegal, dangerous, and frankly selfish behavior, have made it unusable for any other mode.

Now frankly, I could give one fuck whether the Parkway was "created and designed with motorists in mind." In fact, what I'd like to see is a movement similar to Critical Mass by pedestrian advocates to assert their rights. This would probably take the form of crossing the street while pushing a handcart laden with laundry (which is what I used to do when I lived in Adams Morgan).

If the NPS won't enforce pedestrian rights, they're going to have to enforce them themselves.

by oboe on Jul 26, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

Actually, only using roadways where no-motorized traffic is allowed is the only caveat I have to add to your statement. You wouldn't expect a bike not capable of flowing with the traffic at traffic speed to be anymore allowed on a 35 or 50 mph parkway than you would on a 65 or 75 mph Interstate.

On a personal note: I'm just happy Lance lives in DC; it's going to be so enjoyable to think of him as the automobile is marginalized over the next decade. Gives me a smile just thinking about it.

We're fortunate that the Park Service has bent the rules to allow us to have these recreational paths. Let's not risk losing them by insisting that the actual purpose of these roads be obstructed.

by oboe on Jul 26, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

Thanks Lance, for that clarification. So then you agree that the parkway should be closed to all car commuters as well. After all, according to your original intent argument, it was never designed for that purpose. It's clearly dangerous for it to be used that way, and, unlike cycling commuters, car commuters are contributing drastically to the degradation of the original purpose of the parkway.

Thanks for clearing that up. And once we get all those commuters off the road, I'm sure cyclists will get along just fine with the residual traffic.

by CJ on Jul 26, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

@CJ:

There's no need for Lance to get involved. Just imagine the most disingenuous position you can think of, then phrase it in such a way that's calculated to piss you off in the maximum way possible. There you go!

by oboe on Jul 26, 2011 10:12 am • linkreport

Come on, guys. Let's get real. A highway should not have a crosswalk in the middle of it. Period.

There are essentially three options for dealing with the problem. Either:

1. Close the highway.

2. Get rid of the crosswalk.

3. Build a bike bridge (with ramps, like across the River on Clara Barton Pkwy.)

by nwdcforlife on Jul 26, 2011 10:23 am • linkreport

@charlie: the Parkway predates the Pentagon by 10 years...Parkway opened up south of Memorial Bridge in 1932. Pentagon was built '41-43.

Lance's Wikipedia reference on parkways applies mostly to the parkways built in the New York City area...not so much to the parkways built by/for the NPS. The NPS parkways, unlike Lance's citation, were built much more for historical/recreational purposes.

by Froggie on Jul 26, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

@Froggie:

"Seeking to remedy these conditions in time for the nationwide celebration of the bicentennial of Washington's birth in 1932, Congress authorized the construction of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway in May 1928. The Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) was tasked with designing an attractive and efficient parkway that would accommodate the rapidly growing tourist and commuter traffic while preserving scenery, linking sites associated with Washington's life, and providing recreational opportunities along the Potomac shoreline.

Along with commemorating Washington and serving Mount Vernon-bound motorists, the BPR saw the project as an opportunity to demonstrate the principles of modern highway design. Together with New York's Bronx River Parkway, Mount Vernon Memorial Highway helped popularize such features as limited-access construction with widely spaced exits and entrances; overpasses to eliminate danger and congestion at major interchanges; broad, tree-lined right-of-ways to enhance safety and beauty; and careful integration of the roadway with the surrounding terrain to highlight attractive views and make driving safer, easier, and more appealing.

Old Mt. Vernon Road near Gum Springs, 1930 (NARA)

AMERICA'S MOST MODERN MOTORWAY

When it was completed in January 1932, Mount Vernon Memorial Highway was widely praised as "America's Most Modern Motorway." Highway engineers, planners, and the popular press celebrated the parkway as the ultimate blend of modern engineering, landscape architecture, historic preservation, and patriotic sentiment."

Again, not to confuse matters, but I was thinking of that stretch of Washington Blvd rather than the parkway. Was that built for the Pentagon or as part of the Mt. Vernon highway?

Lance's point that this was built for cars still stands.

by charlie on Jul 26, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

This is not the Constitution. Original intent does not matter. What matters is what we want and need now. We should not be locked in to decisions made in 1932 or 1982 or 2002.

What we need and want now are complete streets. There is a bike trail there, and every level of government that matters has said they want more people to bike to work - and that trail is critical for that purpose in this area. So, the intersections should be made safe, even if that means inconveniencing drivers.

by David C on Jul 26, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

@ oboe:It's almost as though people just want to be allowed to drive however they want, and damn the danger to pedestrians and other road users.

The problem is that people think that they themselves don't cause crashes. They're better than everyone else. That changes though when they do get in an accident. Or when a family member of friend gets hurt. Then they're all enraged at the lack of enforcement. In short, people are irrational. True.

Fact is that wherever governments have started enforcing speed limits, crashes, deaths and injuries have gone done. Spectacularly so.

@ Rob:In DC, of course, they never enforce any traffic laws.

And that is the problem.

@ Rich:There are a lot of things that we have the "ability" to do that are not "reasonable."

Enforcing the law, and preventing death and injuries are now unreasonable? Wow.

@ oboe:We're fortunate that the Park Service has bent the rules to allow us to have these recreational paths.

Isn't it great? I'd like to point out that bikers and pedestrians have way more time to enjoy the vista of these parkways than cars, because they go slower. It's a lot easier to enjoy the vistas when you can smell and hear them.

I doubt if there were many cars in the 30s that easily drove 50 mph. I also wonder if people from the 30s would enjoy the vistas that have been made since then. That 5-sided office building. That massive airport. That power plant. Those multilane highways. Those highrises. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of graves...

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

@DavidC; I am quite certain that "complete streets" would never, ever apply to the GW parkway.

The suggestion on WashCycle that the crosswalk be closed and pedestrians use the new tunnel is a good one as well.

by charlie on Jul 26, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

The suggestion on WashCycle that the crosswalk be closed and pedestrians use the new tunnel is a good one as well.

No. It's actually awful. There is no way to get to or from Memorial bridge to anywhere else if the five grade crossings are closed. You'd be trapped in medians. I don't think closing Memorial Bridge to bike/ped traffic is a solution.

by David C on Jul 26, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

@ Charlie,

Yeah! What you said! They didn't ride bikes to work in 1932, and they damned well shouldn't now!

Good lord, you and Lance are fatuous.

Back over here in the real world, this conversation is about making the parkway safe for cyclists and drivers. In that regard, asserting that a driver contributes to an accident when they stop at a crosswalk is dangerous and ignorant. You are both.

by CJ on Jul 26, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

@ Rich:There are a lot of things that we have the "ability" to do that are not "reasonable."

Enforcing the law, and preventing death and injuries are now unreasonable? Wow.

Where did I say that? Quote me the exact spot where I said it. Take your time.

by Rich on Jul 26, 2011 11:51 am • linkreport

@JasperI also wonder if people from the 30s would enjoy the vistas that have been made since then. That 5-sided office building. That massive airport. That power plant. Those multilane highways. Those highrises. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of graves...

Uh, I'm pretty sure Arlington Cemetery was there with tens of thousands of graves in the 1930s... and while the Pentagon and Reagan Airport are new, there was certainly the Washington-Hoover airport where the Pentagon now stands. And let's not forget the landfill next to that old airport where they burned trash, creating a stench that even crossed the Potomac.

by Anon in Arl on Jul 26, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

@ Rich:Quote me the exact spot where I said it.

I can't. You implied it by rejecting all logical solutions and comparing them to something insane.

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2011 12:27 pm • linkreport

@ Anon:I'm pretty sure Arlington Cemetery was there with tens of thousands of graves in the 1930s...

The cemetery was there. Just with a lot less graves. Hoover airport was an airfield, nothing close to what there is now. And thanks for pointing out that there has been one improvement.

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

@ Rich:Quote me the exact spot where I said it.

I can't. You implied it by rejecting all logical solutions and comparing them to something insane.

Oh, come on. I thought you were one of the more intelligent commenters here and then you post childish drivel like that? "Logical solutions" doesn't have to mean "make the Parkway unpleasant for drivers" or "ignore any rationales the Park Service might have for deciding on designs." I think "logical" means "reasonable compromise between all users of the facility as well as the government agency that runs it."

If you look back at my original comment from 14.49 yesterday, you'll see that I said that I think a HAWK signal is a reasonable idea IF it's coupled with an additional advance warning signal in recognition of the trees and the curve in the road. I also said that I expect the Park Service might reject the idea for the very reason that they oppose lights. I'm not sure why you seem to think that means that I somehow "rejected all logical solutions" unless you've fallen under the spell of the "ban all motorized vehicles from everywhere" crowd (which is itself an utterly unreasonable position and they know it). It seems to me that if I said "a HAWK signal is a good idea, but the Park Service will probably reject it," then it should be pretty clear that I'm supporting that signal while trying to be realistic about the chances of one being installed there. If you DON'T consider what the Park Service will say in response to different proposals, then you're just being silly.

by Rich on Jul 26, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

@ Rich: If you DON'T consider what the Park Service will say in response to different proposals, then you're just being silly.

You can anticipate what they will say - if they'll say anything at all - but that does not mean that you will accept what they say, or even regard what they say as valid.

There is a problem in this town that people accept virtually all statements as true and valid, because "it's just a matter of philosophy/opinion/politics etc". That is not the case. Quite frankly, there is a lot of bullsh!t around, and it needs to be called. The NPS's answer here will be bullsh!t. It should be told to stop producing childish drivel like that. If a government agency is unwilling to have serious responses, based in reality, not hollow phrases, then it is silly.

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2011 8:31 pm • linkreport

@charlie

While I agree we're not absolutely certain about the facts of this case, this isn't a court. It seems pretty safe to assume the two cars stopped at the crosswalk, and the truck rear-ended both of them, at least for discussion purposes.

You're not the only person that has made references to only having to top for pedestrians *in* crosswalks (I assume that's what you meant in your comment). I'm curious where this is coming from. I found a link to the Virginia law, and it says you have to yield to pedestrians *at* crosswalks. To me, the use of the word "at" pretty clearly says you have to yield to pedestrians on the side of the road at a crosswalk.

by Andy R on Jul 26, 2011 10:10 pm • linkreport

You can anticipate what they will say - if they'll say anything at all - but that does not mean that you will accept what they say, or even regard what they say as valid.

I don't necessarily agree with everything the government says (I mean, look at the unqualified clown who's currently serving as president....enough said!), but whether you like it or not, the agency in charge of that road will have an immense about to say about what you can and can't do, so the fact that YOU may consider it not "valid" really doesn't matter. If you think you're going to succeed in getting a 25-mph speed limit on the GW Parkway through there, or a series of speed humps, or in getting cars banned from that road, then you're just delusional, plain and simple. (I don't mean my use of "you" to mean you personally; I'm using it generically.)

by Rich on Jul 27, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

If you think you're going to succeed in getting a 25-mph speed limit on the GW Parkway through there, or a series of speed humps, or in getting cars banned from that road, then you're just delusional, plain and simple. (I don't mean my use of "you" to mean you personally; I'm using it generically.)

Well sure, obviously the most likely outcome going forward is that NPS will continue to endanger pedestrians and cyclists because doing otherwise would mean a marginal inconvenience to drivers. That's understood.

I was just pointing out that the assertion "nothing can be done to curtail speeding anyway" was wrong.

by oboe on Jul 27, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

Well sure, obviously the most likely outcome going forward is that NPS will continue to endanger pedestrians and cyclists because doing otherwise would mean a marginal inconvenience to drivers. That's understood.

This is pretty funny, given that the real issue here was a crash that occurred when a driver DID THE RIGHT THING by stopping. Yet somehow it's morphed into another "cars are bad" discussion. You know what? Life isn't safe. No matter how much you do the right thing, you can still get hurt through no fault of your own. I've had a car totalled when I was stopped (short of blocking an intersection) and a woman rear-ended me when she was going 25 mph. I've been in a bike accident on a 15-mph street through the UVA Grounds when a woman turned into a parking space right after she had passed me on my left (she didn't signal, either). No matter what you do, no matter what precautions you take, somehow accidents are still going to happen.

The crash discussed in the original article didn't happen BECAUSE the crossing is unsafe for pedestrians. It happened because there was a dumbass behind the wheel of the second vehicle. That sort of thing can, and unfortunately will, happen regardless of the road conditions. My point was that you can argue for a 25-mph speed limit, but it's not going to be accepted by anyone such that it would, simply put, be futile to post it. When the speed limit there has been 40 mph for at least 30 years (maybe longer, but I don't know what it was in the 1960s and 1970s), trying to get people to change their behavior to go 25 would be a massive battle, and I don't think it's "anti-pedestrian" or "pro-car" or "unreasonable" to say that, either. It's just a simple fact of life, just like it's a simple fact of life to recognize that while cyclists who run stop signs are breaking the law in most jurisdictions, they're still going to do it.

Given the nature of that road, I seriously do think that the only realistic way to improve those crosswalks would be to use the HAWK signal. Everyone knows what a red light means. But it's still important as the pedestrian that you not just walk out when the light turns red, simply because some drivers (not all, despite the propaganda some spew) are assholes. That is, I don't think it's much good being "right" if you're "dead right."

BTW, I also wonder if crosswalk relocation in some of those spots might help. You know where the bizarre merge is between the ramp from the GW Parkway to Washington Boulevard on the approach to the circle? There's a crosswalk right before it. Because the merge is controlled by a "yield," it's not surprising that many drivers are looking first to see whether the merge is clear. I've wondered periodically whether that crosswalk would be safer if it were moved further back from the merge, although I also wonder if that would be counterproductive because traffic would be moving faster there.

by Rich on Jul 27, 2011 4:50 pm • linkreport

I think that just looking at the crossings is way too narrow of a view. We have what could be a wonderful park along the river which is dominated by a mess of roads and on ramps. Instead of just looking at ways to make it easier to cross, I think we should be looking at ways to remove the cars and reroute them on to 110 and Washington Blvd, and close parts of the road to make this the awesome park that it could be. Same should be done with the Rock Creek pkwy in front of the Kennedy Center. We waist so much of our city's valuable resources by filling them with roads when there are great alternatives just a short bit away.

by Mike on Aug 1, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

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