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Cars keep crashing on Arkansas Avenue, imperiling pedestrians. When will DC take action?

Drivers regularly speed on Arkansas Avenue in Petworth, creating a very dangerous place for pedestrians that has already seen one serious injury. Will more have to be hurt before DC brings traffic calming to this area?

A tow truck crashes into parked cars on Arkansas Ave NW on Sunday. Photo by a neighbor, used with permission.

Last October, a speeding driver struck my friend Kelly Dillon outside her house on Arkansas Ave NW. The driver rammed into the vehicle parked behind Kelly's own car on Arkansas Avenue as she was loading it up for a weekend trip.

The impact pushed the hit car forward, pinning Kelly's leg against her own car's bumper and crushing her knee. Instead of heading to Virginia for the weekend, Kelly went straight to the hospital for an emergency operation to save her foot from amputation.

Neighbors organized to call for traffic calming, and officials from the District Department of Transportation told us they would act to make the street safer. But four months later, there is still no timeline for action. Yesterday, Kelly started a new petition calling on the mayor, Councilmember Muriel Bowser (who represents the area), and DDOT to take action to make Arkansas safer.

This weekend, another crash

Sunday morning, a tow truck traveling northeast on Arkansas Avenue slammed into parked cars sitting just north of Iowa Avenue. The impact was so great that the first parked car lurched forward into the second, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately damaged four parked cars.

It's blurry, but in this video you can see that the tow truck was traveling quite quickly. Witnesses tell us that several pedestrians walking to the nearby church were scarily close to the crash area, though thankfully none were hit. The tow truck flipped over on its side and the driver was taken to the hospital to an ambulance.

This is just the most recent in a series of dangerous crashes that have occurred when speeding drivers rear-ended parked vehicles on Arkansas Avenue. After weeks in the hospital, eight surgeries, and months of physical therapy, my Kelly Dillon is on the mend, but still waiting for action.

This is a very dangerous area

Drivers travel far above the posted 25 mile per hour speed limit on Arkansas, especially between 13th and 14th streets. The street is wide, and the rush hour-only lane is confusing. This road connects to Rock Creek Parkway, making it a major route for commuters.

But it's home to many residences, two churches, the Upshur Pool and Park, and several schools. It's not safe to treat Arkansas as a high-speed commuter corridor. Consistently heavy and fast-moving traffic, several unsignalized intersections, and poor or absent crosswalks make it difficult to cross the street safely.

Neighbors clamor for action

DDOT has a clear traffic calming application process on its website. Residents have to obtain signatures from at least 75% of the residents along a street to petition for a traffic calming study.

As a group of us started to knock on doors, we quickly realized we would have no problem. Most neighbors we spoke with had their own stories of drivers crashing into parked cars, and one neighbor had been hit recently while walking his dog. In the end, we were able to reach 80% of the homes along the street, and 100% of those neighbors signed on. This response rate demonstrates how necessary and non-controversial this issue really is.

After receiving our petition, representatives from DDOT, the mayor's office, and Councilmember Bowser's office agreed to meet with us and other neighbors to discuss problems with the street and what they could do to make it safer.

At that meeting, last December, DDOT's James Cheeks committed to studying the street and coming up with options to improve safety. Cheeks told us that by spring DDOT would have preliminary results. But so far we have seen nothing, and we have been unable to get a response on when we can expect the results.

Northbound rush hour lane on Arkansas Avenue NW. Image from Google Maps.

DDOT has calmed traffic on nearby 13th Street and Kansas Avenue, which could serve as template for Arkansas Avenue. On those streets, the agency long ago eliminated the rush hour lanes, installed more stop signs, updated crosswalks, and added bike lanes on Kansas.

Parking, bike lanes, and a stop sign on Kansas Avenue NW could provide a good example for Arkansas Avenue NW. Image from Google Maps.

The rush hour lane in particular is a major problem. Residents can't leave their cars on the northbound side all day, and because parking is plentiful in the area, there are often only a few cars parked. As a result, drivers traveling northeast on Arkansas often assume they can take up two lanes or use the wide street to pass slower cars, only to realize they have to merge into one lane at the last minute to avoid a parked car.

Just in the past year, we have personally witnessed two instances where cars have rear-ended parked cars along Arkansas. Neighbors told us many more stories of this same crash scenario repeating over and over. Simply painting a narrower lane and eliminating the rush hour lane can visually narrow the street and slow traffic.

We have counted at least 6 pedestrians and cyclists struck on Arkansas in the last few years. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of pedestrians seriously injured increased 20% citywide. It's time for action to make Arkansas Avenue, and all of our streets, safer.

Kelly Blynn is a former DC resident and an advocate for sustainable transportation and equitable development. She is now a graduate student in the Masters in City Planning program at MIT and a co-founding member of the pedestrian advocacy group All Walks DC. 
Mary Lauran Hall is a strategic communications specialist and communications director with the Alliance for Biking & Walking. Previously, she oversaw digital strategy and communications for America Bikes, a coalition campaign for the 2012 federal transportation bill. She is a graduate of the New Organizing Institute's 2013 New Media Bootcamp and earned her BA at Wesleyan University. 


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Can you clarify who is the "she" being quoted in the 13th paragraph?

by JimT on Apr 8, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Except for really 'residential streets' where it might be overkill, I cannot imagine how painted lines demarcating traveling lanes vs. street parking area are not mandatory in whatever code(s) apply.

by JDC on Apr 8, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

JimT -- I goggled an excerpt from that quote, and it showed up on a neighborhood blog, attributed to Kelly Dillon, the woman who was struck in October and is leading the petition effort.

by brad on Apr 8, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

Oops, editing error. Sorry! Will fix ASAP.

by David Alpert on Apr 8, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

Are you sure that the police haven't ruled out speed as a factor in the tow truck incident?

by Mike on Apr 8, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

Maybe just ban parking on that street completely, or limit it to one side and make that side full time parking, and flip the center lane during rush hour a la 16th or Connecticut. If there's plenty of parking in the area, neither of those should be a problem. It is a major commuter route, like it or not, and you're never going to be able to change that as long as Rock Creek Parkway is a major commuter route.

There are options here to work with drivers rather than against them in order to make things more convenient and safe for everybody.

by Zeus on Apr 8, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

I don't mind Rock Creek Parkway for what it is (I get that we need some limited access roads even in the city), but I hate that people treat it like a highway and they seem to be in a highway mentality when they are approaching it via residential streets. I used to live off a very residential feeder road to Piney Branch and people would tear down it like they were on the way to the hospital. It was obnoxious and completely disrepectful of a narrow one way street in a residential neighborhood.

by BTA on Apr 8, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport


Give (enough) drivers an inch and they'll take 50mph.

16th Street is also a major commuter route and you don't see people speeding there for many reasons.

by Cavan on Apr 8, 2014 4:05 pm • linkreport

Zeus, while it may make sense in some places to eliminate street parking, why hold a small amount of benefit for commuters ovre local residents? This is actually a great case for say narrower travel lanes, all day parking and maybe a bike lane. Especially if people are driving way to fast in a residential area, it's not congested enough.

by BTA on Apr 8, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

What about speed bumps and traffic cameras to slow traffic? They work very effectively in other parts of the city.

by Adam on Apr 8, 2014 10:14 pm • linkreport

Cheeks for Director!!!!! Than you'll get answers!

by Joe on Apr 8, 2014 10:33 pm • linkreport

Raise the speed limit to 45 and get rid of the sidewalks

by Ghurt on Apr 9, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

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