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Seniors testify about vital pedestrian needs

If walking is sometimes frustrating and sometimes dangerous for most citizens, it is especially so for senior citizens. Marlene Berlin is leading a pedestrian initiative for IONA Senior Services, and she and many individual senior citizens testified today at the DC Council's DDOT oversight hearing. Berlin lives in Ward Three and walks as her "primary mode of transportation. She said,

Photo by auntjojo on Flickr.
Both Wards Three and Four have areas of the highest concentrations of seniors in the city. These areas are convenient to business hubs such as Cleveland Park, Van Ness Center, Tenleytown, Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights, meaning they are of walkable distances and connect to mass transit. ...

Now, next to automobiles, walking is the most frequently used mode of transportation by all age groups. So you would think, in a city where congestion, air pollution, obesity and diabetes are problems, we would focus on making walking as easy and safe as possible. Well, quite the contrary. There is a war out there against walkers, and when we are vital and do not have to deal with any disability, we do not have a clue what it is like. ...

The environment for the older walker in this country is hazardous. She is safer in a car than on the streets. And when you talk to older folks about what it's like for them on the streets in the district, it sounds like a war zone. Cars do not stop for pedestrians. Cars turn into pedestrians at signalized crosswalks. Cars barrel down on pedestrians in legitimate crosswalks, honking their horns for pedestrians to move out of their way.

Berlin specifically wants to see longer crossing times at many key intersections, especially on Connecticut and Wisconsin. She also criticized the lack of sidewalks in many parts of Wards Three and Four. In Barnaby Woods, for example, there is no sidewalk on many blocks connecting to the area's one bus line or at some bus stops.

Finally, Berlin and Mount Pleasant ANC Commissioner Phil Lepanto both recommended creating a Pedestrian Advisory Council, similar to the existing Bicycle Advisory Council. That Council, Berlin said, would "tackle the major issues of changing the culture of driving in DC."

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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The scariest sight I've ever seen was an elderly man trying to push his walker across 15th St NW at Mass Ave. A driver turning right was letting the old guy make his way across the street, but another impatient driver behind her first blew his horn for about a minute, then pulled around her and almost hit the guy. That's a long strip of road to cross and you have to practically race across it.

Then I don't know how the elderly manage to cross Connecticut at T NW (heading east) without getting killed. You cannot cross the entire street with one light even if you sprint. You have to wait in the median with all these cars racing by you at 50 mph.

by lou on Feb 23, 2009 5:31 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see MPD make even a minimal effort at enforcing the traffic laws, beyond just setting up speed/red light cameras. I've lived here 5 years now and I've never seen a police officer pull over a driver for anything. That's sort of scary.

I heard that MPD doesn't even have a dedicated traffic division. Can anyone verify this? This makes no sense to me- they could start keeping pedestrians safer while at the same time generate additional revenue for the District through tickets. Seems like a win-win to me.

by Chris Loos on Feb 23, 2009 6:17 pm • linkreport

The biggest danger to the independence, safety and mobility of DC seniors is red brick pavement. Stump-and-fall accidents break a lot of elderly hips, limbs and skulls, and support a growing proportion of personal-injury attorneys.

Brick sidewalks may look nice from the window of a realtor's car but they're hell on pedestrians.

by Mike Licht on Feb 23, 2009 6:50 pm • linkreport

As a Californian, I just can't understand why pedestrian rights are not respected here. In California the right of way of pedestrians is vigorously enforced and as a result people respect it. You don't even have to step off the curb to get cars to stop; they will stop if they see you waiting to cross. Here the law seems to be that cars are not required to stop unless the pedestrian is already in the crosswalk, but in my experience most cars won't stop even if you are in the middle of the street. I'll never get over the time I was trying to cross a two-lane road in Clarendon when a nice lady stopped to let me and the stroller I was pushing cross. I hesitated for a moment to be sure the drivers in the other lane stopped as well, only to watch an Arlington police cruiser blow through the other lane at top speed. If I had tried to cross, my son and I would not be around today. We need to push for the right of way of pedestrians and the enforcement to make it stick. If California can do it, so can the jurisdictions out here!

by Kathy on Feb 23, 2009 9:47 pm • linkreport

Welcome to the east coast sweetheart. Honestly, I'm dead serious. People don't have the time nor patience to come to a full stop and wave and smile as you stroll across the street.

Besides, isn't 'hustle and bustle' all of the 'fun' of neo-urbanism. I mean, if you wanted quiet streets, you could always move to a suburban subdivision....

by MPC on Feb 23, 2009 9:56 pm • linkreport

Haha ... You're right on target MPC! People often want to have their cake and eat it too. It's human nature.

by Lance on Feb 23, 2009 10:31 pm • linkreport

Oh, Mimetic Pantaloon Caucus, you really are the king of the double-barreled bait-and-switch strawman. Don't you realize there's a difference between a libertarian and an asshole?

by цarьchitect on Feb 23, 2009 10:55 pm • linkreport

So do we only criticize the "war" language when it's levied against cars?

by Gavin Baker on Feb 23, 2009 11:13 pm • linkreport

just as much as there's a difference between a fish and a bicycle......maybe if mpc didn't tell things how they are, he'd be more popular around here....what FUN is that?

being well liked > being popular, at least in mpc's for being correct? well a broken clock....

positivism, my friend....the cure for hope-

need more of it...not popular among the smurt people...turns out people dont do things we want them to do....BAD that we take that into account. result?

we invent neo-postmodern feminist anti-structural analysis of the oppressed in the GLOBAL SOUTH???

all the while a=a. sorta like the guy who goes west all the way around the globe when he coulda gone 1 mile east

by MPC on Feb 23, 2009 11:16 pm • linkreport

Oh, David, are unsolicited ad hominem attacks, like the one levied on me by UrbanArchitect, tolerated on this blog?

I don't appreciate being called an @$$hole, especially given that my kids read this blog and will ask their daddy what an '@$$hole' is. That's a pain that can't be duplicated, even by getting hit by a car in a pedestrian-unfriendly area.

by MPC on Feb 23, 2009 11:25 pm • linkreport

Wow. If I had known that little ribbing would set MPC off like that I wouldn't have done it. My apologies for derailing the thread.

Gavin is right... the war language is not only wrong, it's distracting from the real problem. Pedestrians are comparatively ignored, not fought against. Because this apathy is based at a cultural level, it's difficult to advocate for walkers because it doesn't necessarily seem like they're being ignored. They have sidewalks and crosswalks right? How many people have seen those gargantuan Tysons intersections as a person without a car? Those who don't walk often just don't get it.

I think walking more and encouraging friends to do the same is one of the best ways to ensure that people start thinking like and caring about pedestrians. Otherwise all of these changes will seem like catering to a fringe by the government.

by цarьchitect on Feb 24, 2009 6:59 am • linkreport

Kudos for Marlene Berlin for leading the charge to testify before the council. And thank you. We will all be senior citizens soon enough, and advocating for the most vulnerable will improve things for the rest of us, I have no doubt.

And thank you to Kathy for bringing the west coast perspective. I always like to hear how things are done other places. I think we might not get all of that ethic, but some of it for sure. We certainly need it.

Also, I've said it before so I'll say it again, why can't we get the technology re-installed that allows pedestrians to punch the button to change the traffic light that allows them to cross a road?

by Jazzy on Feb 24, 2009 7:32 am • linkreport

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