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Is ped enforcement campaign "blaming the victim"?

District agencies are running a much-needed, but brief, sting operation today to enforce the laws against making U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Meanwhile, a number of readers have written in with worries that a pedestrian enforcement campaign is targeting the wrong people for the wrong behavior.

Reader @Akido37 tweeted this photograph, of a bus shelter ad the District Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Police Department have posted near Farragut Square warning pedestrians about a stepped-up enforcement campaign. He wrote, "Talk about blaming the victim."

Certainly, pedestrians can do a lot to make themselves more safe, or take more risks. Walking while texting or reading emails removes one line of defense against a driver hitting a pedestrian.

On the other hand, pedestrians can suffer even when they do nothing wrong, but a driver's attention lapses for moment. Some readers feel MPD is not doing enough about far more unsafe driver actions. Reader David Joseph wrote:

I walk this intersection twice a day and without fail drivers make illegal turns, pull into the crosswalk, or otherwise endanger pedestrians. I recently asked an MPD officer who was giving warnings to pedestrians why they werent talking to drivers who are the real danger. His answer was simply that they were given orders to talk to pedestrians and issue tickets for jay walking, and he was following those orders.
Ben Ross said in an email:
I work at that intersection, and the pedestrian signals there forbid pedestrians to make crossings that are absolutely safe. You are told not to cross the turn lane on westbound 17th between the traffic island and the Red Line entrance even when traffic in the lane you are crossing has a red light. You can only cross when the main part of K Street has a red light, which comes 32 seconds later. Obviously, no one waits to cross the turn lane when the cars are stopped in front of them.
In a similar vein, during a past enforcement campaign police stopped people crossing the one-lane side roadway of Connecticut Avenue at Q Street, where the main road passes under in an underpass. While not lawful, there are plenty of times when there are no cars approaching, or even a bus at the bus stop blocking the road entirely. It doesn't advance safety to ticket people for crossing at these times.

Everyone should follow laws. The ideal solution to these problems would be to redesign the intersection to better accommodate pedestrians' own needs and not forbid doing things that aren't really dangerous. However, we're not realistically going to change most of these intersections anytime soon.

With driver speeding, especially with the latest speed camera bill, we've made a decision to tolerate a certain amount of unlawful speeding (10 mph over the limit), and recently cut down on penalties for those who speed more. Mayor Gray also raised speed limits in a few places where many drivers, perhaps rightly at least in some cases, argued they were too low.

The District needs to focus on the most unsafe behavior. Sometimes, that's pedestrian behavior, but more often it's not. Do you think this campaign is blaming the victim? Or does it attack a real safety problem, and some people just don't want to follow the law?

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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Thank god this is happening.

While I find the same futility against anti-headphone/texting laws as against helmet wearing, it isn't a great idea, and it is happening more and more.

However, in terms of priorities I think mid-block crossing are far the worse.

by charlie on Jan 30, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

I completely support walking and biking and I bike to work 3-4 days per week but some pedestrian behavoir (i.e. running across Wisconsin Avenue at night in mid-block, biking at night and failing to stop at intersections while not wearing a helment and having no lights, etc...) is simply reckless.

by Ben on Jan 30, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

Sometimes the Victim is the one that is at fault.

by Cyclone on Jan 30, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

Sometimes the Victim is the one that is at fault.

And yet that's not much comfort to people forced to make dangerous decisions in areas where the car dominates and drivers have little fear of being caught doing something reckless.

Moreover, if it really is a "pedestrian safety enforcement zone" then most of the tickets should be handed out to drivers since they pose the most risk.

by drumz on Jan 30, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

I've always wondered if I could rob a bank in front of one of those cops focusing on a certain misdemeanour and get away with it because I wasn't committing the crime he was ordered to watch...

I think this campaign is a bit bonkers, but at its heart jaywalking is the same as cyclists jumping a red light or drivers being scofflaws in other ways.

I've never really understood why jaywalking is a crime (although pedestrians always seem determined to walk out in front of me when I'm cycling I think it's silly, not criminal), but as long as it is a crime it's fair game to police it. If texting while driving isn't ok, texting while crossing the street probably shouldn’t be either. I suppose the question is at what point a scofflaw becomes an outlaw. I don't have an answer for that, though.

by Jim on Jan 30, 2013 12:03 pm • linkreport

Cars shouldn't speed too much. Bikes should slow down when they Idaho Stop. And pedestrians should not be texting while jaywalking. But everyone is selfish and unreasonable, so good luck.

by crin on Jan 30, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

I don't see why texting while lawfully crossing the street should be under consideration as illegal. I dislike getting stuck behind some plodding self-important buffon who thinks her e-mail is just soooo important, or dodging the idiot who isn't looking for people walking the other direction because because he's reading Politico on his phone. Stupid, self-absorbed, lacking in general courtesy, yes. But so dangerous to self and others that it should be made illegal? Not sure I can get on board with that.

by Birdie on Jan 30, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

It would be nice if some attention were paid to drivers doing what they're not supposed to do, even if it's not speeding or running red lights. I walk to work every day and can't even tell you how many times drivers have done things like making turns in front of me (and sometimes dangerously close to me, often with accompanying bird-flipping like I'm the one doing something wrong) when I have been in the crosswalk legally.

by Jennifer on Jan 30, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport

The photograph here appears to be on a bus stop, which seems to me an appropriate place to target the pedestrians and not the drivers. I'm not really bothered by this ad here. My issue is that we probably won't find a comparably scaled campaign geared toward drivers.

by Dave Murphy on Jan 30, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

"The District needs to focus on the most unsafe behavior."

So should we ignore, say, speeding and concentrate exclusively on red light running because it's more unsafe? I don't think so - I think we need a holistic enforcement plan just like we need a holistic transit plan.

We absolutely need to make more sensible and pedestrian-friendly intersections and provide safe and convenient options. As someone who'd rather walk than train and rather train than drive I'm completely on board with that. But I kid you not, at least once a week as a driver I find myself with my heart racing because some pedestrian makes some unbelievably risky choice and almost makes me a killer.

That doesn't excuse anyone for offenses committed behind the wheel. But those offenses don't make for a blank check for other risky behavior, even if the lives those pedestrians are most risking are their own. Or their child's, like the person who almost pushed a carriage out into the street between two parked cars and in front of me.

by Don Whiteside on Jan 30, 2013 12:14 pm • linkreport

"I've never really understood why jaywalking is a crime..."

There's something like 3,500 annual pedestrian deaths and surely some of these are from jaywalking. This is a great tragedy and also has societal costs. I am sure it is a crime to serve as a deterant to this potentially dangerous behavior.

by Ben on Jan 30, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

On the other hand, pedestrians can suffer even when they do nothing wrong, but a driver's attention lapses for moment. Some readers feel MPD is not doing enough about far more unsafe driver actions.

MPD has a number of initiatives focused on unsafe drivers. For example, the Penn Ave U-turn initiative you cited, automated camera enforcement of cars entering crosswalks with peds in them, automated enforcement of speeding, red lights, and stop signs, and holiday crackdowns on drunk driving. In VA a one-day crackdown on driving infractions on I95 and I81 netted 2,400 violations. I'm sure DC does similar things.

While not lawful, there are plenty of times when there are no cars approaching, or even a bus at the bus stop blocking the road entirely. It doesn't advance safety to ticket people for crossing at these times.

Does it advance safety to ticket people for running a red light when there are no other cars, peds, or bikes present?

Would any initiative to enforce ped laws be unacceptable or is there something particularly wrong with this initiative?

And yet that's not much comfort to people forced to make dangerous decisions in areas where the car dominates and drivers have little fear of being caught doing something reckless.

Are drivers "forced to make dangerous decisions" in areas where peds dominate and peds have little fear of being caught doing something reckless?

by Falls Church on Jan 30, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

"I find myself with my heart racing because some pedestrian makes some unbelievably risky choice and almost makes me a killer."

Good! People should be constantly afraid they're going to kill someone when operating a device that routinely kills people!

by TM on Jan 30, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

I've seen lots of ads from metro advising people to be aware of their surroundings and to hold onto their iphones and other such things securely to avoid being robbed.

Conversely, I haven't see a single promotion asking thieves to stop robbing people.

Sometimes ads aimed at victims are more effective because they have something to lose.

Sure the language and imagery could have been changed - maybe a driver texting and running a stop sign while plowing into a pedestrian with the words "watch out for cars, because sometimes drivers break the law and kill people" - but the point is still that pedestrians have to take action to improve their own lot.

by Paul on Jan 30, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

Are drivers "forced to make dangerous decisions" in areas where peds dominate and peds have little fear of being caught doing something reckless?

No. The drivers' decisions are whether or not to do something that may result in their injuring or killing somebody else. The pedestrians' decisions are whether or not to do something that may result in their own injury or death. These are not comparable.

by Miriam on Jan 30, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

This is ridiculous.

In Friendship Heights we've been pressing MPD for some sustained pedestrian safety enforcement, particularly enforcing the yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk law.

Finally MPD proudly came back and told us that they had undertaken a pedestrian safety campaign - by going after jaywalkers.

When pressed if any tickets had been issued to drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks the answer was no, no tickets had been issued.

MPD cannot even make the effort to go after the low hanging fruit - if it doesn't fall in their lap then they never get their hands on it at all.

I think it would make an interesting GGW piece to explore how many citations MPD issues annually on issues that impact pedestrian safety - for example the yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk law, or the prohibition on using a hand held cellphone while driving, or the very good law passed a couple of years ago prohibiting cars from making a right turn in front of a bus stopped at a bus stop.

My guess is we would find that MPD issues very very few of these citations in a year.

Which explains in part why everyone ignores the laws.

And this idiotic campaign explains why it is hard to take MPD seriously.

by TomQ on Jan 30, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

The problem is that traffic laws treat pedestrians like vehicles but we don't move like vehicles. Traffic engineers just don't ever learn pedestrian movement in school, I would guess. More mid-block crossings where useful, more one way streets (much safer in my experience), and more enforcement of egregious pedestrian violations. Doesn't help to be one sided.

It's worth pointing out that traffic accidents remain a leading cause of deth for middle age and young adults. Few people are ever killed by a speeding pedestrian as far as I know. The same can not be said for vehicles. We really can't act like they deserve equal treatment in all situations.

by Alan B. on Jan 30, 2013 12:35 pm • linkreport

Are drivers "forced to make dangerous decisions" in areas where peds dominate and peds have little fear of being caught doing something reckless?

Dangerous to the driver? Not really. The driver faces little personal risk.

But there are a couple of things here:
Often, all of the focus is at who is at fault. That is because figuring out who's at fault means we know which insurance company pays. While it is important to figure that out its only ancillary to the question of what's safest and not really what the city (and it's police) should be focusing on.

Moreover: Pedestrians shouldn't have to worry about behaving "recklessly" where there are a lot of pedestrians already because A. Two people walking and bumping into each other poses very little risk and B. in that situation a driver should already be extremely careful anyway. If you can't drive safely and with eyes out for pedestrians at 7th and H NW then what makes me think you'll drive safer out in Ashburn?

by drumz on Jan 30, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

*ugh, death

** also the implication was accidental deaths, obviously medical conditions are another subject altogether

by Alan B. on Jan 30, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

No, there is nothing wrong w/this ad and the campaign does not "blame victims." This is just an example of our usual knee-jerk reaction to much of anything we disagree with.

Yes, pedestrians who (like cars) try to make the light, endanger themselves and those around them. Those who do the whole "distracted walking" thing put themselves at risk. It only makes sense to provide some pedestrian safety ideas into our normal "transit" dialogue. No need to exclude pedestrians. ,

by HogWash on Jan 30, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

I don't have a problem with this as long as it is restricted to the most egregious pedestrian behavior.

A year ago I might have felt differently, but since I moved to a place on Conn Ave (still carfree!), I have seen some really atrocious pedestrians. People lazily walking across a busy, six-lane, island-less arterial when they are 100 yards from a signaled crosswalk should be ticketed. In those situations, the ped isn't the only one at risk; when drivers are forced to stop short or swerve, everyone is at risk.

If they start ticketing people for not waiting for the light at a corner with no traffic, I will be upset. But if they start going after people who could cause accidents, fine by me.

by JW on Jan 30, 2013 12:54 pm • linkreport

In my experience the DC MPD is usually so busy speeding up and down main drags, lights on or off, that they are as much of a hazard if not more than the rest of the clueless drivers out there.

I long ago decided it made more sense as a pedestrian to look both ways and cross safely than to pay much attention to DC's ill-timed and random pedestrian signals. Better safe and ticketed than dead. The one time I got hit (lightly) by a car in DC I was in a signaled crosswalk and the driver had the nerve to yell at me for being in her way.

If the MPD would get out of their cars (and off those stupid scooters) and ticket some bad drivers, it might make a difference.

by phil on Jan 30, 2013 12:54 pm • linkreport

The drivers' decisions are whether or not to do something that may result in their injuring or killing somebody else. The pedestrians' decisions are whether or not to do something that may result in their own injury or death. These are not comparable.

Dangerous to the driver? Not really. The driver faces little personal risk.

I'd agree that killing someone else is not totally comparable to being killed. However, I think we can agree that a decision where you potentially may kill someone can be classified as a "dangerous" decision, just as a decision where you might be killed yourself is a "dangerous" decision. So, my original question still stands, are drivers forced into "dangerous decisions". I'd say no. They are not forced into dangerous decisions, rather they make dangerous decisions out of ignorance, carelessness, or stupidity. Similarly, I wouldn't say peds are forced into making dangerous decisions either.

A situation where you are "forced" into making a dangerous decision would be like deciding whether to jump out of a burning building.

by Falls Church on Jan 30, 2013 12:54 pm • linkreport

Peds are never forced to text while crossing.

The placement of crosswalks often makes it so hard to get to places that people walking need to get to, as to provide a huge inducement to jaywalking, often making it almost impossible to accomplish a journey in anything close to a reasonable time.

Whether that is "forcing" or not, is to me a matter of semantics. There are also occasions where conveniencing peds makes drivers go out of their way, but my sense is that we do more to avoid such inconveniences, which seldom involve nearly as much time.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 30, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

This post is pretty timely. I watched a ped, ear buds in staring down at his phone walk right past the group of us waiting at the signal into I street against the light (light had changed 10-15 seconds prior) and nearly become a hood ornament on some food delivery truck that left rubber skid marks in the stopping process.

With the loud horn and the screeching brakes Mr. Darwinism finally looked up and from the look of his face, was near passing out from fright.

Then again, I don't know if this article was timely or not. I see near accidents like this atleast once a day in my usual metro commute. I see a few other every day that aren't as close calls but see atleast one person a day who was seconds away from needing a coffin.

by DCr on Jan 30, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

It's a huge stretch to find anything wrong with this.

by selxic on Jan 30, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport

I've seen enough atrocious pedestrian behavoir in the past 10 years not to discount this entirely. The worst is people with little kids -- that makes my blood boil. BUT it will depend entirely on how this is enforced and on whom. If its targeted to those people that become dangerous to themselves or others, I'm fine. If it's a strict enforce the traffic laws instead of improving intersections/pedestrian facilities then I will not be happy.

by Alan B. on Jan 30, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

Maybe I assumed when I shouldn't have. When I say dangerous decisions I mean because of the environment which in my mind necessitated that any decision carries a certain degree of risk regardless of the legality of said move or not.

In an inherently dangerous environment it doesn't really make sense to target dangerous behavior in an attempt to stop the behavior, especially if you want to see systemic change.

This doesn't necessarily apply to drivers because they usually aren't actually the ones facing danger themselves.
So no, they aren't forced but that doesn't mean pedestrians aren't either. Beyond that I'd say its semantics, so then pedestrians are much more often unduly pressured into making dangerous decisions, regardless of the motivations.

by drumz on Jan 30, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Victim blaming: yes, but sometimes it can be rightfully so. I have seen some pedestrians (and in some case this includes myself) do some spectacularly stupid things, just as I've seen bicyclists do dumb things, and foolish motorists likewise.

But a difference between the modes is that one is licensed, another can be, and another should never be. Cars & bikes are both vehicles, but I'm a bit of a libertarian when it comes to walking: one can't license me to walk on my own two feet.

Furthermore, when a pedestrian does something risky: they're the ones putting themselves most in danger. This is why, in my ideal dreamworld: ped laws -- as they apply to pedestrians -- would largely be more for purposes of assigning right-of-way and liability in event of collision; only enforced for egregious (such as overtly unsafe behavior; not jaywalking when there's no traffic).

I feel this even moreso in the face of calls for Idaho Stops... I'd sooner see pedestrians permitted to cross on red before (or concurrent) to giving bicylists that same permission.

by Bossi on Jan 30, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

No, this is not blaming the victim.

by Fitz on Jan 30, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

As for those who question "Isn't there anything more important for police to be doing, like drug enforcement; chasing murderers; etc...?"

Sentiments on enforcement of certain modes aside, in the general picture: traffic safety is a far more relevant & frequent risk to the public than drugs and others crimes. At a statisical level: drugs & other crimes are really quite small; we just feel they're a bigger risk because they're outside of our sense of control- they pull at our emotions more.

by Bossi on Jan 30, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

I don't think this ad is blaming the victim.

MPD's "pedestrian safety enforcement" where all they do is go to some notorious jaywalking spot and ticket jaywalkers (while ignoring driver law-breaking/unsafe behavior) is blaming the victim. When people are jaywalking all the time at a specific spot it's usually because signals are set up improperly and create big "don't walk" gaps where it is actually quite safe to walk across. I'm looking at you, 18th & N NW.

by MLD on Jan 30, 2013 1:47 pm • linkreport

Charlie, in theory, I agree with your criticism of mid-block crossing, BUT often times it IS safer depending on the sight angles - because you have cars coming at you from only one direction. In a crosswalk those turning left come up from behind you in addition to those turning right across in front of you. It's scary, especially if you have kids in tow or whatever. Nearly half of all those killed are in crosswalks.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 30, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

Q:Is ped enforcement campaign "blaming the victim"?
A: Yes.

Its like blaming a rape victim, reclassifying sexual assaults as simple assaults or "disturbances" and asking rape victims to downgrade the charges, instead of prosecuting the rapist. Of course the MPD would never do that.

by SJE on Jan 30, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

Saw three cops yell at kids for walking in the path of traffic on the sidewalk in front of Whole Foods in Tenleytown on Wisconsin Ave a month ago. I actually felt sympathy for the kids - that sidewalk is really confusing for peds trying to cross the entrance to the parking garage: it's often hard to see traffic turning there, yet the cops wanted the peds to give cars the right of way.

by TenleyGal on Jan 30, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

I'd have a problem with this were it not for the fact that the pedestrians in DC are not aware of basic safety precautions and street-crossing laws, not to mention everyday etiquette.

by JustMe on Jan 30, 2013 2:56 pm • linkreport

Yes, people can be stupid when it comes to crossing streets.

But, we must remember that these streets and the traffic lights were designed for cars and not people, which is not fair to pedestrians.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 30, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

@SJE @Charlie
I agree with @SJE, mid-block crossings are sometimes way safer than the intersection because you only have to be aware in one direction on each side of the street, whereas at an intersection you have the turning cars. That's where a lot of "misunderstandings" occur. Example, a car pulls up at the intersection to take a right on a red light. First, to see past the car in the inside lane the driver pulls up into the cross-walk. Second, they look to the left to see if cars are coming into the intersection from the perpendicular street. This leaves the pedestrian unable to walk into the crosswalk unless they tap on the cars hood, or somehow else get the driver's attention. Or, they can try to walk around the back of the car. No matter what, it's not the safest way to cross the street.

by dc denizen on Jan 30, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

I'd also like for the MPD to crack down on texting and smartphone use by drivers, in general. It's all illegal yet I see 2 out of 3 drivers either holding and talking on their phones, or texting, or just looking at their smartphones. I don't see how a driver on his smartphone helps pedestrians. I'll even wager that the MPD was giving out jaywalking tickets while only a few feet away some drivers were holding their cellphones, yakking away. That would've been a great picture.

by dc denizen on Jan 30, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

denizen - That's not just a misunderstanding. It's a driver violating the law. The crosswalk is part of the intersection. The driver is forbidden to enter the intersection against the light, unless the way is clear to make the turn.

Of course, obeying this law when the crosswalk is clear of pedestrians would make it impossible to make a right on red in many circumstances where it would be perfectly safe to do so. Which is why drivers routinely ignore this law. Just like pedestrians routinely ignore signals when it is safe to do so.

The issue here is that pedestrians are being ticketed for routine, safe behavior that is technically illegal. There are no safety campaigns ticketing drivers for entering intersections before they are sure they can exit. There are no safety campaigns ticketing drivers for going 1 mph over the speed limit.

by Ben Ross on Jan 30, 2013 3:25 pm • linkreport

Local police departments are going after low-hanging fruit: pedestrians. It's more difficult to ticket drivers. It's MUCH easier to ticket people on foot.

Pedestrians also don't have AAA lobbying on their behalf.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 30, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

I also take the side of the pedestrian in most cases, but many do engage in stupid behavior. Others have written about some it. Another stupid ped trick is to cross a street very deeply engrossed in a cell phone conversation without even bothering to look up or around.

by Bob on Jan 30, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Capt. Hilts
I would understand that if it were the suburbs, but we're talking Downtown DC. Pedestrians are no minority there. Plus, let's not forget that a lot of peds are also drivers. It's not like it's one or the other. How many of the peds you see downtown got there by driving? I can easily see someone who drives downtown recklessly, parking, and then walking recklessly. I'll go one further and ask, how many jaywalkers are drivers jaywalking to or from their car parked mid-block?

by dc denizen on Jan 30, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

I don't see how that is relevant. If you are talking about downtown DC, the answer is most people did not get there by driving.

by Alan B. on Jan 30, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

It might be easier to ticket peds versus drivers, just as its easier to arrest kids for littering versus busting a violent armed felon.

But the MPD is supposed to be doing what enhances safety and public order, not whatever is easier. I'd argue that the "low hanging fruit" approach actually undermines public order by reducing respect for the police.

by SJE on Jan 30, 2013 5:29 pm • linkreport

One of the goals of traffic signals is to safely manage the flow of traffic. It works when all parties obey the signs. However, pedestrians routinely ignore the "walk/don't walk" signs, resulting in cars unable to safely make turns or move through the intersection. I see this regularly at 18 and L when trying to turn on the green arrow, only to have pedestrians pop out into the intersection, or at 15 and L, when a pedestrian ambles into the intersection with the red "don't walk" flashing and the timer showing 3 seconds. This isn't safe for either party.

I walk, bike and drive through the city. All parties are to blame. Oddly enough, the drivers are the ones who get all the grief. I have sympathy for the pregnant woman who can't move easily through the intersection. I have none for the idiot texting away who wanders into the intersection just before the light changes.

by Chuck on Jan 30, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

Chuck: I agree that there is a lot of blame to go around.

I do not think that the MPD response is appropriate, however. Ticketing oblivious peds might be appropriate, but a chunk of this is attacking the symptom, not the disease.

Drivers routinely ignore pedestrian safety, and too many roads are designed without proper consideration of peds. Under such circumstances, peds are not going to be sticklers to the law: they will do what they need to do to get around. Any approach must be balanced, including targeting drivers.

I also disagree that smooth flow of traffic should be the highest priority for signals. It should include the flow of peds. Also, its highest priority is safety, not just flow.

by SJE on Jan 30, 2013 6:10 pm • linkreport

I walk, ride transit, or drive most of the time, depending on where I am going and the time of day.

I hope MPD goes after people on bikes who bike against traffic signals (or ped. signals where noted to do so) and stop signs. I can't count the number of times I've been walking and have almost been run down by a someone on a bike blowing through a stop sign (not even slowing down and then proceeding -- just blowing through -- I get why bikes do not come to a full stop) or in and out of a stream of pedestrians in a cross walk.

Just last night a woman walking in front of me along P St stepped into the 15th St bike lanes in the crosswalk (the walk light had just illuminated) and was barely scraped by a set of handlebars. Some idiot biker NB on 15th in the bike lane blew through the "Don't Walk" signal (NB 15th left turning traffic onto WB P St had the green arrow prior to the P St green/walk light). She yelled something as the biker just kept on going.

by Transport. on Jan 30, 2013 6:16 pm • linkreport

This isn't some War on Pedestrians. This is a War on Stupidity. I've been hearing a radio PSA that promotes safety whether using transit, walking, biking or driving. Yes, this particular ad targets a particular group, but it doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are many areas where drivers are targeted. Every group makes mistakes and most in DC belong to more than one group.


Rape? It doesn't matter if you're a prostitute for a living, rape is rape. It does matter if you aren't paying attention, wander into the road illegally and get yourself killed. Not only are your family and friends at a loss, you've permanently damaged the driver and witnesses to go along with property damage.

by selxic on Jan 30, 2013 6:39 pm • linkreport

selxic: The MPD has recently come under fire for a report that it tried to downplay and under-report rape, and made rape victims feel like they were the problem. It was easier to get a rape victim to downgrade a report instead of catching the rapist. I see something analogous here: the MPD is going after peds first, because it is easier, when the more serious problem is drivers.

by SJE on Jan 30, 2013 6:49 pm • linkreport

SJE, as I said in my last comment, the problem is not exclusive to any single group and this single campaign is not the only MPD campaign. This isn't a matter of first or last. There are other efforts all over the city right now targeting motorists just as there have always been.

Regardless of charges, victims of rape are victims and rapists are criminals. If you're one to argue a careless pedestrian cannot be at fault for their own death, then we can simply agree to disagree.

by selxic on Jan 30, 2013 7:58 pm • linkreport

Except the only danger to pedestrians is from cars.

by Drumz on Jan 30, 2013 8:18 pm • linkreport

Of course that's not true, Drumz.

by selxic on Jan 31, 2013 1:18 am • linkreport

Ok, I could trip on some pavement and skin my knee.

Again, I'm not saying cars are always at fault but they are te dangerous thing regardless. Driving is literally the most risky thing most of us do on a day to day basis. Yet the city, society, police, whomever treats this as an issue of being able to mitigate this by pressuring all groups equally. I don't think that's the solution.

I'm not trying to argue an analogy with other crimes but I'm pointing out that most unsafe pedestrian behavior is unsafe because there are always people in cars zooming by. The only reason we have liability laws and a system of finding out who is at fault in an accident is because of cars. That would suggest to me that ultimately it's rarely the pedestrian who is the problem.

by Drumz on Jan 31, 2013 7:45 am • linkreport

This week has made me feel as a pedestrian as if I'm an obstacle for cars to go around. Some examples:

A woman turning left turned into the opposite direction lane because I was (legally) in her way.

A car nearly bumped into my kneecaps because the driver kept turning into the lane I was (legally) crossing. Actually that happened at least three times. I kept thinking, what if I dropped my keys or tripped and fell? I'd be dead.

I nearly got hit by a person talking on their phone and coming to a rolling stop at a stop sign, not really looking for pedestrians.

And then there are the endless numbers of cars turning right that block the crosswalk.

Those are just the first three *this week* that I experienced. MPD really needs to step up enforcement of driver bad behavior.

by louc on Jan 31, 2013 7:53 am • linkreport

If bikers and walkers are going to take a "absolutely no tolerance" approach to drivers, then maybe there should be an "absolutely no tolerance" campaign from breaking rules for those not on four wheels. Maybe start arresting all the jaywalkers in Adams Morgan on Friday nights so traffic can move better.

Or everyone can be a little more tolerant and understanding.

by polo on Jan 31, 2013 10:03 am • linkreport

It's not a question of "tolerance" it's a question of who is actually posing the most risk.

You can't actually have "no tolerance" because there aren't enough cops in the world for it make a difference. Rather, you should look at mitigating risk.

by drumz on Jan 31, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

It's hardly as if what's being advocated is an "absolutely no tolerance" approach toward drivers - certainly not in terms of slavishly enforcing every little rule in circumstances where nobody is being endangered. That's exactly the policy approach being objected to.

What drivers are being asked to do is be safe, share the road and use common sense. And police are being asked to at least occasionally /i> enforce some of the rules on drivers in circumstances where routine violations of those rules are actively endangering people.

Too much?

by jack lecou on Jan 31, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

selxic: I am not arguing fault, only the MPD response. Sure, there are peds at fault. But targeting peds is done because its easy, when its cars that pose the actual danger.

by SJE on Jan 31, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

As usual in DC, one sign or law contradicts the other. Does everyone involved in DC government have their heads up their @sses? Signs near my office downtown state that DC law requires cars to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks...period. Which should be the case. Driving is a privilege, while walking or wheelchairing is a necessity.

by CalmTruth on Jan 31, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

It is easier for a ped to take precautions to stop or not walk into incoming traffic than it is for a vehicle going the speed limit to stop. I am a school bus driver and being on these roads everyday for hours, there are just as many reckless ped, cyclist, & drivers. The problem is ar selfish mindset many people have today on these roads. Act defensively in whatever way you choose to travel and things will be better. But this thought that peds can do no wrong will just set the tone for more accidents

by shebaby on Jan 31, 2013 10:29 pm • linkreport

SJE - fwiw, more people are killed in crosswalks because more people walk in crosswalks. And crosswalks tend to be situated in particularly "dangerous" areas, that is, intersections, where traffic moves in multiple directions at different times.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2013 5:36 am • linkreport

SJE -- sorry to be pedantic.

2. People might be interested in this,

I've always thought that one of the big problems in "the city" is that a lot of the drivers come from places where they don't regularly encounter masses of pedestrians and a visible number of bicyclists, especially bicyclists doing transportational biking, that is, not recreational biking.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2013 5:41 am • linkreport

oops, I left out a word or two...

not recreational biking mostly limited to weekends.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2013 5:44 am • linkreport

By nature, individual MPD officers will crack down on peds and give drivers a free pass. That's because the vast majority of officers are essentially out-of-state car-commuters. They just happen to work at MPD rather than the DMV or DPW.

If MPD wanted to crack down on threats to public safety they'd concentrate on something like speeding in school zones. (Now someone will argue that we can do both but, no, given resources, we cannot.)

I walk past the neighborhood school at 13th and Tennesee each morning, and nearly every car heading south on Tennessee takes the left onto 13th doing about 30-35 mph in an effort to make the light. But as an organization staffed by a super-majority of out-of-state car-commuters, MPD's sympathies are with out-of-state car-commuters. Their perspective is largely suburban. And what are the things that irk out-of-state car-commuters? Pedestrians and cyclists. Drivers are just "regular folks" going about their business. And if they happen to speed through a school zone, well, people make mistakes, and what are these idiots doing sending their child to a dangerous inner city school with dangerous city traffic, anyway? They should move to Clinton.

We need to put the emphasis on serving and protecting DC residents. That comes from the top, but a part of that is going to come from encouraging more resident hiring in MPD. (Obviously along with strict standards, competitive wages, and explicitly allocating more of our "affordable housing" as workforce housing for cops, teachers, and firemen.)

by oboe on Feb 1, 2013 9:07 am • linkreport

But targeting peds is done because its easy, when its cars that pose the actual danger.

We should have zero tolerance for all lawbreakers! Obviously we'll start with the low-hanging fruit and concentrate solely on pedestrians, cyclists, and litterbugs. Once we've eliminated all transgressions among those groups forever, *then* we can move on to target the thornier problems of near-universal reckless driving and murderers.

by oboe on Feb 1, 2013 9:11 am • linkreport

I'm not trying to argue an analogy with other crimes but I'm pointing out that most unsafe pedestrian behavior is unsafe because there are always people in cars zooming by. The only reason we have liability laws and a system of finding out who is at fault in an accident is because of cars. That would suggest to me that ultimately it's rarely the pedestrian who is the problem.

This is obvious when you try a thought experiment: let's eliminate traffic signals altogether. Rather than red-lights, we'll put 4-way yield signs at all intersections. The pedestrian accident toll would be roughly the same, but there'd be mass carnage among drivers.

by oboe on Feb 1, 2013 9:14 am • linkreport

oboe @ 907AM - you hit the nail on the head here.

I don't think it is an excuse and still points to leadership issues with MPD but there is clearly a cultural/lifestyle gap between the rank and file of MPD and citizens of the District.

So Lanier needs to drop the endless PR and be engaged on this.

And frankly this divide exists with most rank and file DC Government workers.

When you get the oft heard refrain "that's not my problem" when an indifferent DC Employee is trying to get out of helping you they are not just referring to their job - they are referring to their personal life.

I actually once had a senior and long time DDOT staffer tell me in a meeting about speeding on a narrow side street in Upper NW "why would I want to restrict the ability of MD drivers to come down this street - I drive in from MD every day myself."

DC really needs to figure how to get a higher mix of civil servants as DC residents and end DC government as a job program for middle class PG County residents. Given the skill level and hostility of many of the civil servants I've dealt with I can't believe DC can't find equally mediocre and rude people among DC residents.

by TomQ on Feb 1, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

I was thinking about this entry later and ... related to some of the other comments, I guess it's an illustration of the MPD getting money from the National Highway Safety Program to do targeted enforcement and then not having a program and plan to deal with pedestrian safety systematically. E.g., do we know what the top 10 problems are, based on data? Is there a work and action plan for ped safety improvements as part of the MPD traffic safety and enforcement division. Is there a good response program based on research/social marketing, etc.? And clearly they didn't retain "professionals" to design their ads... etc.

It's been a long time since I've looked at the Ped. Master Plan, but ideally this kind of program ought to be defined there. Etc.

It's been more than one year since I've looked at the DDOT dashboard, but I remember it being incredibly deficient in terms of the reporting of traffic accident data of all types.

It's likely that this data is compiled, and MPD crime analysis + DDOT know which are the locations that are the biggest problems, what types of incidents are preponderent, etc.


I don't participate in the DC Pedestrian Advisory Committee, so I don't know if MPD personnel regularly participate. Typically, transpo agencies forget/don't try to include the local police force units charged with traffic safety and enforcement in these kinds of oversight and engagement activities, which is a mistake.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

"If MPD wanted to crack down on threats to public safety they'd concentrate on something like speeding in school zones."

Move the speed cameras from I-395, 295, and commuter routes like NY Ave. to school zones.

That will never happen though because there's far less money to be made by putting speed cameras in school zones.

In any event, pedestrians need to use a little self-preservation and common sense. When vehicles and pedestrians collide, the pedestrian always loses, regardless of who is right or wrong.

by ceefer66 on Feb 1, 2013 2:16 pm • linkreport

"That will never happen though because there's far less money to be made by putting speed cameras in school zones"

You argue as though only 4-5 speed cameras exist. DC could buy more.

The real blocker is the ludicrous 10 mph "cushion" the city spots drivers. Plus the culture that says it's okay if drivers break the law.

Given that the number of drivers who break the 15 mph school zone limit is "all drivers" money would not be an issue.

by oboe on Feb 2, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

I know I'm coming in late but.... the reason the intersections in that area get so much "pedestrian enforcement" via MTPD, is that the MTPD is there running interference for the presidential motorcade that's coming along in a few minutes. It's pretty embarrasing when the motorcade has to stop because some pedestrian is out jaywalking on Connecticut or K St or Mass Ave.

Trust me, I've seen it many times, crossing against the light when there's a cop on the curb with his motorcycle watching, is not the smartest thing.

by BO on Feb 5, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

this is totally a blaming the victim thing. i am nearly run over multiple times a week by cars that act like we're invisible, despite crossing the street legally in a crosswalk with a walk signal - let alone all the other times i'm crossing places with no light or sign and no crosswalk (which is still legal, let me remind everyone).

obligatory "everyone should do better" statement, but honestly, i DO believe that the cars and bikes should need to be more responsible than pedestrians. We are not equal partners in all of this since a car can do WAY more damage than a bike, which can do way more damage than a pedestrian. Those who have the most power to kill and injure must bear the bigger share of responsibility.

i mean, it really sounds like MPD is more concerned about favoring cars' convenience and keeping traffic flowing on K than on anyone's safety.

by jen on Feb 5, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

A key point to remember: speed limits on most city streets where pedestrians are common are 35 mph or less. If a distracted pedestrian walks into the street unsafely and is struck by a law-abiding driver, they will be injured but are unlikely to die unless they are frail or elderly. A pedestrian can cause a crash, but unless they're on a road that is designated for high vehicle speeds they are not likely to cause a fatality, even to themselves, without the driver also being in violation of the law.

Further, with power comes responsibility. If you went to a gun range and observed children, senile elders, or even drunken frat boys wandering around, you wouldn't fire your weapon in their direction. When you choose to drive in an urban environment, you accept that conditions are not going to be predictable and that you are responsible to travel at a speed prudent for the conditions (whether that be ice, low visibility, congestion, or heavy pedestrian/bicycle activity). That may not enable you to avoid all collisions, but it greatly reduces your risk of being involved in one as well as the seriousness if you do crash.

At the end of the day, politicians, engineers, planners, and law enforcement bear the greatest responsibility for most pedestrian deaths, as well as for the excess air pollution, obesity, and other problems that are related with pedestrian and bicycle trips being suppressed by unsafe infrastructure. It's understandable why drivers speed - and pedestrians "jaywalk" - given the faulty design of the infrastructure they travel on. Still, we don't live in a perfect world and we all have responsibility to do what we can to make it better. Drive slowly, respect others, and let your elected officials know that we need better, more context-appropriate infrastructure that prioritizes safety over speed. Behavior problems exist within a physical context. The best way to reduce annoying and/or dangerous behaviors by all road users is to stop building bad roads.

by Darlene on Feb 6, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

Another way of looking at this: even the most progressive cities (in the US) spend less than 1/10th of the money on pedestrian facilities that they do on car facilities. Until that inequity is remedied, at least 90% of safety education and enforcement funding should be devoted to improving driver behavior. We have no right to expect pedestrians to be as orderly and compliant as we expect drivers to be if we are providing them a drastically lower level of accommodation. It's infinitely less honerous for a driver to put down his or her cell phone, obey the speed limit, and stop at crosswalks than it is for a pedestrian to walk miles out of their way or wait several minutes for a sanctioned crossing opportunity. Spend the other 10% giving pedestrians safety tips, but keep the focus on those to whom so much has been given.

by Heather on Feb 6, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport


The reason that the police don't write citations for driving behavior that endangers pedestrians is the same reason why no driver is ever cited for vehicular homicide (or manslaughter depending on the state) when his or her car flattens a bicyclist: the police are on the "driving team".

Everybody on the bicycling and pedestrian team is fair game.

by Anandakos on Feb 28, 2013 4:24 am • linkreport

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