Greater Greater Washington

Mendelson: "We're being too easy on drivers" who kill

At Friday's oversight hearing on the Metropolitan Police Department, Councilmember Phil Mendelson asked some tough questions about prosecution against drivers who kill pedestrians or cyclists.


Photo by Don Fulano.

The exchange starts at 4:53:45 on this video recording.

Mendelson asked about a particular incident where a driver killed a pedestrian on Wisconsin Avenue while allegedly talking on a cell phone. He said, "There have been a couple of these incidents where a pedestrian or bicyclist was killed... and there's no prosecution, even though we have a reckless driving law. It's as if, as a government, we are too easy on the driver, too forgiving of the driver, even though an individual has lost their life."

Chief Lanier responded that the driver has to have committed a specific violation before the police can bring any charges. Assistant Chief Patrick Burke then said that MPD did submit that particular case to a grand jury, but wasn't able to definitively determine whether he was on a cell phone, and the grand jury refused to bring an indictment.

After some further discussion, Mendelson concluded by saying, "I just think we're being too easy on drivers who re hitting individuals and killing them, and there's no charge."

Certainly not all drivers who kill pedestrians or cyclists deserve to be prosecuted. Sometimes the driver really wasn't distracted or speeding or otherwise being reckless, and sometimes pedestrians do suddenly jump out into traffic without enough opportunity for drivers to see them and stop. However, MPD also seems to refuse to bring charges except in the most egregious of cases, such as when witnesses see the driver on a phone. We haven't seen proseuctions if the driver is speeding, for example.

Furthermore, a source familiar with safety prosecution said that MPD's policy is to assign fault the pedestrian if the pedestrian or cyclist violated any laws at all. It appears, therefore, that if the pedestrian or cyclist violates the law in a small way and dies, the victim is responsible, but if a driver breaks a law in a small way and kills someone, the driver isn't responsible.

It's tough to provide evidence for these generalizations because we have little information on MPD's conclusions in fatal crashes or subsequent prosecutions. MPD generally refuses to provide copies of the police reports in these cases; for example, years after Alice Swanson's death, attempts to get that police report have been unsuccessful.

The first step to determining whether MPD is being too easy on drivers is to get information on how easy they are being. What did they conclude in the recent fatal crashes? If they assigned fault to the dead pedestrian or cyclist, was that based on real evidence? How often did they bring charges or issue tickets? Mendelson could help shed light on these questions by pushing MPD to release these police reports and information on prosecutions.

Thanks to Michael Neibauer for watching the hearing and highlighting this exchange.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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It would be easier to prosecute speeding drivers if we actually enforced the speed limit. The US system of tacitly approving of some speeding makes that sort of prosecution much more difficult. Why don't we set the speed limit at a sane level and then actually enforce it to the letter of the law?

by jcm on Mar 22, 2010 3:01 pm • linkreport

I don't think DC needs an indictment to suspend someone's driver's license.

by Steve S on Mar 22, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

Furthermore, a source familiar with safety prosecution said that MPD's policy is to assign fault the pedestrian if the pedestrian or cyclist violated any laws at all. It appears, therefore, that if the pedestrian or cyclist violates the law in a small way and dies, the victim is responsible, but if a driver breaks a law in a small way and kills someone, the driver isn't responsible.

This isn't quite right -- what MPD's policy (if this is accurate) reflects does not say the pedestrian is "responsible". There's no prosecution of the dead pedestrian for, say, destruction of property. It reflects the challenge of prosecuting someone for, say, vehicular manslaughter when the fault for the collision lies partly with the driver and partly with the pedestrian. Of course, teh US Attorney, not MPD, should be making prosecution decisions, but even so a prosecutor isn't likely to want to take a case when the victim isn't present and the driver can readily testify that the pedestrian moved erratically. It's a lot easier for a defense lawyer to succeed on that than "the victim just jumped onto the knife I was holding and impaled himself".

by ah on Mar 22, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

Regardless of circumstance, if you kill another person you should be heavily penalized. It's ridiculous to believe that scatterbrained humans operating multi-ton vehicles aren't at fault.

by James on Mar 22, 2010 3:28 pm • linkreport

It seems that there is extremely traffic enforcement at all in DC. I would be grateful for more overall enforcement -- speeding, run lights, stop signs, failure to yield, etc.

by jj on Mar 22, 2010 3:35 pm • linkreport

A jackass politician looking to get some free radio time.

On average we get 15-20 pedestrian deaths a year in DC.

MPD doesn't bring cases against people -- grand jurys do. And proving driver negligibility isn't always easy.

Traffic laws (except for a few) are civil; if you run a red light or speed that is an administrative violation. That doesn't make you a bad person -- it means you have broken a rule. And that doesn't mean if you are speeding, and kill someone, that you are guility of murder or manslaughter.

DC doesn't have much a problem with drivers killing pedestrains. the suburbs do -- for the simple reason people are driving faster. If a politician wanted to do something useful, at least he could look at injuries vs deaths.

by charlie on Mar 22, 2010 4:15 pm • linkreport

"if the pedestrian or cyclist violates the law in a small way and dies, the victim is responsible, but if a driver breaks a law in a small way and kills someone"

Why is this unreasonable? The reality is that pedestrians and cyclists are far more vulnerable than motorists. If a pedestrian stepped in front of a cyclist in violation of the prevailing traffic rule, and the cyclist was injured or killed when he attempted to avoid him, would you argue that the cyclist should be presumed guilty?

I guess I don't understand why we would have a set of rules that are designed to ensure everyone's safety if everyone follows them, but then not use them as the arbiter of blame in an accident. Nor do I understand why, in the absence of conclusive information about who's at fault, anyone would want a society that allows someone living to be locked up for years, ruining their life, over an accident that was not conclusively demonstrated to be due to their own negligence.

Fault is assigned to the pedestrian around half the time that fault can be found in ped/auto accidents. While I am sure that the rabid anti-car people here won't believe these figures, let's say for the sake of argument it's only 25% of the time in reality.

How can you say that, given a lack of conclusive evidence or witnesses that can demonstrate the fault of a motorist, we should prosecute people with manslaughter when history shows they are innocent somewhere between 25% and 50% of the time? What if it's even 5% of the time in reality? Do you really think we should lock up even 1 in 20 completely innocent people so you can have your pound of flesh from the rest?

by Jamie on Mar 22, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

A jackass politician looking to get some free radio time.

One part of a politician's job is to voice the concerns of his constituents. There are a hell of a lot of constituents who have legitimate concerns about reckless driving.

I agree with some of the previous posters: zero-tolerance for speed-limit violations. Jack up the penalties as well. As Jamie mentioned, we can't assume driver guilt in a given accident, but we *can* enforce the existing laws.

Anyway, debating these issues is rather futile: as the demographics of the city continue to change, and more and more residents move into the city for its emphasis on walkability, and decreased emphasis on auto travel, all this is going to come to pass anyway (c.f. elimination of one-way commuter arterials, creation of bike infrastructure, etc...)

by oboe on Mar 22, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

There are a hell of a lot of constituents who have legitimate concerns about reckless driving.

These are legitimate concerns, but isn't the better way to address them to increase enforcement against all kinds of reckless driving (and even non-reckless, but unlawful driving), rather than increase penalties only for the very rare instances when that driving leads to a death?

by ah on Mar 22, 2010 5:04 pm • linkreport

i've never figured out why, in vehicular cases where cell-phone use is suspected but not "proven" - why aren't cellphone records subpeonaed? I think that it should be mandatory, for any driver involved in an accident of a certain degree (and hitting someone should definitely qualify), that cellphone records should be made available, and if it is shown that the driver's cellphone was in use at the time of the accident, be automatic evidence of the driver's negligence or guilt.

I don't understand why it should be so hard to "prove" that someone was on the phone at a particular time - those records do exist.

by sparky on Mar 22, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

On the Alice Swanson case, can't Phil Mendelson demand the police department release the report, at least to him? I'm still aghast that the driver in that case got off so lightly.

by lou on Mar 22, 2010 5:08 pm • linkreport

"I don't understand why it should be so hard to "prove" that someone was on the phone at a particular time - those records do exist"

Can you prove they weren't using their speakerphone or a headset?

by Jamie on Mar 22, 2010 5:09 pm • linkreport

Jamie,

I don't think you understand what David is saying. He's not saying that every driver that kills somebody should be prosecuted, he's saying that we shouldn't shield people from blame simply because they're violating a law that "everybody does".

Also your bicyclist-pedestrian hypo is screwed up. I think you mean: what happens if the pedestrian died. Even then it's nonsense and misses the point. Nobody is suggesting that all drivers who follow the law should nonetheless be charged with manslaughter if they are involved in a deadly collision. We're merely suggesting that the law is too forgiving of actions taking by drivers that contribute towards the death of pedestrians, which, by the way, are already illegal.

Finally, you assert that "fault is assigned" to drivers half the time (where do these numbers even come from?). Then you ask, how can we prosecute people for manslaughter when you just said they're to fault only half the time? You seem to think that so long as any driver might be innocent, we have no business prosecuting any of them. That's preposterous.

by Reid on Mar 22, 2010 5:18 pm • linkreport

Also, the whole hands-free cell phone dodge is a total fallacy. If you're using a cell phone, you're distracted. Period.

by Reid on Mar 22, 2010 5:20 pm • linkreport

anyone would want a society that allows someone living to be locked up for years, ruining their life, over an accident that was not conclusively demonstrated to be due to their own negligence.

Bringing charges against a person is not the same as convicting that person of a crime. There is, after all, the small matter of a trial. Some of the righteous outrage comes from the perception that the police and district attorneys aren't even making reasonable efforts to bring cases to trial.

On the other hand, prosecutors in this country don't generally like trials when there's a possibility that the defendant might be found innocent. That's why we have such a preponderance of plea bargins.

by David R. on Mar 22, 2010 5:25 pm • linkreport

"Can you prove they weren't using their speakerphone or a headset?"

Or prove that they didn't have the car sitting in the passenger seat, or that the phone was one buy they weren't talking, or a thousand other incidents like that. It can all be "proven" but at what cost to the District?

Let's be honest: DC has a CRIME problem as well. I'd rather have the police investigate real homicides (140+), unsolved murders (40+ in 2009?), thousands of property crimes, and lord only knows how many rapes, assaults and muggings.

There are a few cases every year where drivers may get after hitting a pedestrian. But lets keep our eyes on the big picture.

by charlie on Mar 22, 2010 5:27 pm • linkreport

Let's be honest: DC has a CRIME problem as well. I'd rather have the police investigate real homicides (140+), unsolved murders (40+ in 2009?), thousands of property crimes, and lord only knows how many rapes, assaults and muggings.

How many of those crimes are solvable? It's tragic, but there are always a number of murders that are unsolvable, usually with victims at the bottom end of society, who no one noticed.

Some of these pedestrian deaths benefit from lavish numbers of witnesses and ample physical evidence, and yet there's been no attempt at prosecution.

by David R. on Mar 22, 2010 5:35 pm • linkreport

"Can you prove they weren't using their speakerphone or a headset?"
Or prove that they didn't have the car sitting in the passenger seat, or that the phone was one buy they weren't talking, or a thousand other incidents like that. It can all be "proven" but at what cost to the District?

if having a cellphone in active service at the time the owner causes a traffic accident, especially one that takes the life of someone else, is a per se evidence of reckless driving, then the burden of proof is on the defendent to show that the cell phone did not contribute to the reckless driving. That's what a trial is all about. But you don't just throw up your hands when someone gets killed because it would be too hard to "prove" that the driver broke the law - especially if the needed information is readily available.

by sparky on Mar 22, 2010 7:16 pm • linkreport

How many instances were there of pedestrian deaths, with lavish witnesses, yet no attempt at prosecution? I'm interested in the details of the incidents . . .

by ah on Mar 22, 2010 8:11 pm • linkreport

All parties should be equally faulted.

If a pedestrian was jaywalking,distracted, not crossing in crosswalk etc they should be part of the blame.

If a driver on a phone, distracted, speeding etc they should be part of the blame

If one party is speeding and the other jay walking both should be equally blamed.

If one party is completely at fault than they are to blame.

And, all people not at the scene should have no opinion on the matter until all details are described.

No blaming the pedestrian or driver unless you know for sure they are to blame like some people do on blogs they should not be assuming anything.

Neither party should get off without any blame unless it can be verified by many sources that it is not there fault in any way.

by kk on Mar 22, 2010 10:02 pm • linkreport

After some further discussion, Mendelson concluded by saying, "I just think we're being too easy on drivers who re hitting individuals and killing them, and there's no charge."

That's because it's exceedingly difficult to prove intent in the case of traffic accidents. Good luck getting a grand jury to indict on the basis of general criminal intent outside of egregious violations (i.e. DUIs). If the councilman were so concerned, he'd write something into the statute to address this situation.

However, MPD also seems to refuse to bring charges except in the most egregious of cases, such as when witnesses see the driver on a phone. We haven't seen proseuctions if the driver is speeding, for example.

It's certainly possible to bring a prosecution based on speeding, but how do you prove it? Yes, the reckless driving statute (DC Code § 50-2201.04) can be applied in some circumstances, but you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was operating, "at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property"

Furthermore, a source familiar with safety prosecution said that MPD's policy is to assign fault the pedestrian if the pedestrian or cyclist violated any laws at all. It appears, therefore, that if the pedestrian or cyclist violates the law in a small way and dies, the victim is responsible, but if a driver breaks a law in a small way and kills someone, the driver isn't responsible.

I don't recall ever being taught this, and I'd be surprised to hear that this is written into the General Orders or DC Code. This source certainly sounds like they're a legal goober in the OAG's office. But then again, maybe MPD's Major Crash section has some additional element orders that govern serious crash investigations. Why don't you call Major Crash and ask?

And personally, unless there's proof that a pedestrian did something extremely stupid, I usually cite the driver in a driver on pedestrian accident per DCMR 18 2300.02.

It's tough to provide evidence for these generalizations because we have little information on MPD's conclusions in fatal crashes or subsequent prosecutions. MPD generally refuses to provide copies of the police reports in these cases; for example, years after Alice Swanson's death, attempts to get that police report have been unsuccessful.

Maybe the investigatory documents are not released, but the basic PD-10 Traffic Crash Report is a public document and available to be picked up for a fee at any district. But then again, I haven't been involved in any traffic fatality investigations, so I there's a chance that they're done differently. But would it hurt to ask for the CCN numbers for fatal crashes and try to get the PD-10?

I don't think DC needs an indictment to suspend someone's driver's license.

True. DUIs, accidents involving deaths, leaving after colliding, reckless driving, using a vehicle in the commission of a felony, and being under 21 with any kind of alcohol in your bloodstream. There may be more written in, but those are off the top of my head. Upon arrest, you can be served a DPW 33-40 Notice of Proposed Suspension. Unless you apply for a hearing within 5 days (if a resident) or 10 days (non-resident), you are suspended within the District. I'm not sure how it works in Maryland or Virginia, but if you're suspended in MD or VA, you're suspended in DC. It may work the same there too.

These are legitimate concerns, but isn't the better way to address them to increase enforcement against all kinds of reckless driving (and even non-reckless, but unlawful driving), rather than increase penalties only for the very rare instances when that driving leads to a death?
People are gung-ho for increased fines on traffic infractions until I get them for doing a rolling stop through a stop sign, no right on red at a stop light, cell phone use, etc. Then they're pissed about how much the citation is.

Also, the whole hands-free cell phone dodge is a total fallacy. If you're using a cell phone, you're distracted. Period.
True, but use of a device with your hands really, really distracts you. I know, because a vast majority of the time people talking on their phones never see my marked scout cruiser sitting 25 south of the intersection they crossed, or in the alleyway in plain view facing one of the major thoroughfares on my beat.

Neither party should get off without any blame unless it can be verified by many sources that it is not there fault in any way.

I don't agree. NOIs issued for blame are civil infractions and shouldn't require a probable cause standard.

by Boomhauer on Mar 22, 2010 10:54 pm • linkreport

For Phil Mendelson, one of the major reasons why DC's crime problem is what it is, to be demanding that MPD or whoever crack down on any sort of scofflaw is almsot too rich.

After defense attorneys, Mendelson might be a criminal's second-best friend. No one has done more to hamstring the police and the courts in regards to prosecuting proven criminals than Phil Mendelson.

by Anon on Mar 22, 2010 11:07 pm • linkreport

Under DC law, failing to stop and give right of way for a pedestrian is a crime (see DC Code 50-2201.28, available online at DC council's website), but in practice it is treated only as a civil offense unless the driver commits a second violation (PD-61, available through FOIA), like driving without a license. Much as I appreciate PM's remarks, I would much rather see drivers treated as the criminals they (some of them) are before they kill, rather than after. The right of way statute as written does not require any reckless intent or additional offenses; it simply says that drivers have to give right of way and, if they do not, they can be subjected to civil or criminal penalties. It may be appropriate to apply only civil penalties in some instances (like a first offense of blocking a crosswalk), but it should not be the norm, as it is now. In the name of safety, the government has elected to take the use of vast swaths of public space away from non-drivers and burden the fundamental rights of pedestrians by confining our legal right of way to crosswalks. And then it insults us by failing to enforce the law it created as it is written, continually finding excuses for letting drivers off far too easily.

by Eileen on Mar 23, 2010 9:09 am • linkreport

Mendo should pass a law saying that drivers shouldn't kill pedestrians. That will solve the problem.

by Fritz on Mar 23, 2010 9:10 am • linkreport

@Eileen: I've always wondered what exactly was prohibited by the law you mention. What about when a driver stops at an intersection with all four tires inside the crosswalk? I see this from time to time and it always steams me, to have to walk practically into oncoming traffic, just to cross the street.

by Steve S. on Mar 23, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

@Jamie
+1
I completely agree with your reasoning.

To everyone else who is crying, "Let the mofos burn!" I'm wondering what you would do if you were in a similar situation.

What about an earnest mistake? I'm sipping my coffee completely legally, but I hit a pothole and it spills on me. Meanwhile, while I'm screaming in pain, I start braking (because I'm trying to be cautious) and the cyclist behind me can't avoid me and runs into me. If he gets hurt, am I at fault?

What if you're driving at a reasonable (and legal) 30 mph at night and someone dressed all in black starts crossing, albeit in a crosswalk. You can't see them until you're too close. Whose fault is that?

What about if I'm driving at 50 mph, 5 mph over the 45 mph speed limit somewhere along Rt. 50. Someone jumps out in front of me, not in a crosswalk. Should I then be at fault for speeding, even though the person would have suffered nearly the same serious injuries if I had been driving at the speed limit?

Those of you who are advocating a stiff response are taking this too far. You would not get charged if you stepped out into the road and some car swerved into another car to avoid you, killing another driver in the process. There are certainly culpable distracted drivers (the make-up artists, the texters, the knee-steerers), but I don't think it's so cut-and dry as all of you make it seem. It's tragic and provides little comfort to those who knew the victim, but not every human-caused death deserves a life-ending punishment.

by SDJ on Mar 23, 2010 11:02 am • linkreport

@Steve: I think they do ticket drivers for that (stopping in a crosswalk), but doubt the maximum fine is ever applied. I don't know if it's treated as a violation of the right of way statute, either -- they may cite for something else. (I saw a complaint on a neighborhood listserve from someone who got a $50 ticket for it. The fine for failing to give right of way is up to $250 civilly and/or up to $500 criminally -- the max should be higher in my view, based on income, and applied per pedestrian -- but given the max, I can kind of see why the fine for obstructing is $50, assuming the right of way statute is the one that's applied.)

I agree with you that it's very aggravating (and potentially dangerous) when drivers do it -- as you say, sometimes you have to walk into oncoming traffic, outside the crosswalk, to get around the vehicle -- and if it's one of those big buses or an SUV, you've got very limited vision for what my be coming up on the other side of it (say, a driver turning right on red without looking). And, of course, if you're hit by someone, they've now got an argument that you weren't in the crosswalk and therefore they didn't have to give you right of way. Oh, and a couple of ped safety forums I've attended, the police officer there said that traffic court judges won't uphold a citation to a driver who doesn't hit someone, unless the police officer personally sees the driver violate the law. So, the driver obstructing the crosswalk won't be ticketed either. And, given the statement in the article about faulting pedestrians, I have to wonder whether the police are going to cite the pedestrian in this situation for jaywalking since the ped wasn't in the crosswalk? People think it's not that big a deal to obstruct a crosswalk, but it can have significant consequences for everyone involved. So my own view is that a driver who obstructs a crosswalk ought to be ticketed for failing to stop and give right of way (they may have stopped, but they haven't given right of way) -- I'd probably stick with a civil penalty at least the first time, but they should be cited and face a significant fine.

by Eileen on Mar 23, 2010 11:14 am • linkreport

@Eileen: I've always wondered what exactly was prohibited by the law you mention. What about when a driver stops at an intersection with all four tires inside the crosswalk? I see this from time to time and it always steams me, to have to walk practically into oncoming traffic, just to cross the street.

I ticket them for for a moving violation for passing a stop sign/light or a non-moving violation because standing (which is what a non-moving but running vehicle is doing) is prohibited in crosswalks. I prefer to hand out movers because they have points associated with them.

Under DC law, failing to stop and give right of way for a pedestrian is a crime (see DC Code 50-2201.28, available online at DC council's website), but in practice it is treated only as a civil offense unless the driver commits a second violation (PD-61, available through FOIA), like driving without a license.

61-Ds are citations in lieu of arrest. I've never, ever seen one written for failure to yield, and I doubt that it's a 61-D offense, although I'll look that up in the General Orders. 61-Ds are written for things like expired tags/unregistered auto, not for moving violations.

The fine for failing to give right of way is up to $250 civilly and/or up to $500 criminally -- the max should be higher in my view, based on income, and applied per pedestrian -- but given the max, I can kind of see why the fine for obstructing is $50, assuming the right of way statute is the one that's applied...So my own view is that a driver who obstructs a crosswalk ought to be ticketed for failing to stop and give right of way (they may have stopped, but they haven't given right of way) -- I'd probably stick with a civil penalty at least the first time, but they should be cited and face a significant fine.

That's all well and good until I stop and ticket you for $250 dollars for having two wheels in the crosswalk because you tried to do a rolling stop and saw me, or you tried to beat the light and ended up not getting it. Then it'll be a travesty and you'll be calling my district Watch Commander to complain.

Oh, and a couple of ped safety forums I've attended, the police officer there said that traffic court judges won't uphold a citation to a driver who doesn't hit someone, unless the police officer personally sees the driver violate the law.

They'll uphold certain tickets, like a favorite one that I write for accidents: Failure to Control Speed to Avoid Colliding or Colliding with a Pedestrian. Certain ones you can articulate to the hearing examiner and have them upheld. If you have witnesses and signed statements, you can sustain others. However, if it's just one person's word against another and the officer isn't a witness, how can an examiner sustain a NOI? I'm extremely reluctant to write an NOI for a moving violation that I didn't witness because I'll be torn up in the BTA hearing.

My opinions are my own and not necessarily representative of my employer, the District of Columbia, Cathy Lanier or any other whiteshirt on the Department

by Boomhauer on Mar 23, 2010 12:09 pm • linkreport

@Eileen: Given some of your rather extremist rhetoric (treating drivers as the criminals they are; gov't taking away large amounts of space for roads; etc), I was wondering if you suggest hanging all drivers or something more modern like lethal injection.

Seriously, you're not going to win any converts with that hyperbole. Instead, you'll cause a backlash by the average Joe's who really don't see themselves as evil potential killers every time they get into their car. It's why lots of people really don't take all that seriously cyclists' musings and push back against them.

by Fritz on Mar 23, 2010 1:02 pm • linkreport

List of 61-D offenses in Appendix A of this document:

http://www.mpdc.org/GO/SOP_PD_FORM_61D.pdf

by ah on Mar 23, 2010 2:12 pm • linkreport

Seriously, you're not going to win any converts with that hyperbole. Instead, you'll cause a backlash by the average Joe's who really don't see themselves as evil potential killers every time they get into their car. It's why lots of people really don't take all that seriously cyclists' musings and push back against them.

Oh Fritz, I think you're hyperventilating again. Suddenly bike lanes and traffic enforcement are hyperbole, eh?

Besides, no one's trying to "win converts". The demographics of DC are changing, and a growing majority of DC residents actually care about being able to walk around safely. If you don't think you can either a) drive within the law; or b) stomach the legal consequences, you'll probably want to be staying out of the city over the coming decades. Cause it seems to me, the writing's on the wall. Even with your army of Joe the Plumbers, the city's becoming more cyclist and pedestrian oriented.

Sorry, but the people have spoken. The 70s are over.

by oboe on Mar 23, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

If anything, the law should be enforced more stringently against drivers than against peds/cyclists. Driving a car is a privilege, for which you need a license and insurance, and comes with a greater risk of harm should you operate it in an unsafe manner.

by SJE on Mar 23, 2010 4:09 pm • linkreport

Of course, if the problem is the LAW, then Mendelson should propose a bill to get it changed.

by SJE on Mar 23, 2010 4:09 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Well, I guess you may have been too busy singing "The Times They Are A-Changin'" to notice what I wrote about Eileen's hyperbole.

And you're wrong about no one needing to win converts. The city has a finite budget. The majority of it is committed to education and public safety. That means the remainder of the pie has to be fought over by all sorts of special interest groups, including folks here. And as the overall size of the pie gets smaller b/c of lower revenue, that means much greater fights over the smaller pieces of the pie, with lots more sob stories about who really deserves more funding and who doesn't.

Remember the thread about the woman who didn't get the need for spending money on bike lanes in her neighborhood? She's not the only one. And she's exactly the person you need to convince if you're looking for long-term sustainability.

So, while it feels good to be in the midst of an echo chamber, it gives you a very warped view of the reality outside that chamber.

by Fritz on Mar 23, 2010 5:33 pm • linkreport

The city has a finite budget. The majority of it is committed to education and public safety.

The future of cities like NYC and DC is fewer and fewer poor and lower-middle class folks. Over the first decade of the century, we've seen the beginning of the suburbanization of poverty. As the demographics of the city change, crime and the crush of poverty overwhelming the schools are going to abate. Gentrification has already led to a huge shift in demographics, and that process is accelerating.

I do remember the woman you talked about. While I doubt she's "the only one", I'd say the majority of the folks at that meeting were there to support the new changes. As more like-minded middle-class and affluent folks cluster in urban areas, there is a multiplier effect. Folks who hate bike lanes will move to the suburbs; those who want walkability will move into the city.

Not to get personal, but I'm curious, do you live in DC? You certainly don't seem to have much of a sense of the cultural shifts that've taken place over the last decade.

by oboe on Mar 23, 2010 6:02 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Well, if your plan is to wait for the poor black and Hispanic folks to move out, and for the better off white folks to move in, I don't think you have much hope of public funding if you phrase it that way. And you're also going to have to wait another 50 years or so for DC to be sufficiently black-free for your hopes to take hold.

And yes, I live in DC. Used to live in NYC. Watched the demographics of both change quite a bit. And also heard all sorts of predictions about how times were different and everything was going to get so much better real soon. Then again, I also heard about how we were all going to be flying our cars by the early 2000s.

by Fritz on Mar 23, 2010 7:32 pm • linkreport

If your plan is to wait for the poor black and Hispanic folks to move out, and for the better off white folks to move in, I don't think you have much hope of public funding if you phrase it that way.

Much better to have the very poorest of our citizens penned in a blighted urban ghetto, an hour from any entry-level jobs. That's served the working (and non-working) poor so well this last century. Well, okay, it's served the lily-white suburban areas. But I'm sure you'll let us know how redlining and the like actually helped blacks.

And also heard all sorts of predictions about how times were different and everything was going to get so much better real soon.

That's the best thing about the future: it comes, and tends to clarify all the hypotheticals. Of course, I'm sure there were plenty of folks living in the urban core in the 50's and 60's who just *knew* things would stay the same forever. Just like the folks a few years ago taking out interest only ARMs on exurban homes 40 miles outside of Las Vegas. After all, suburban sprawl's the future. Real prescient, that.

by oboe on Mar 23, 2010 7:43 pm • linkreport

@oboe: One thing is certain: In the future, as in the long term, we're all dead.

But if the Smart Growth plan is for the poor and minorities to move out and for the whites to move in, then, well, I don't know how much more there is to say about that. Maybe it would be nicer and more intellectually honest for its proponents to just came out and say so. I mean, the sentiment clearly comes out in many topics that are discussed on this site, but at least it's always hidden with fancy sounding urban planning lingo and economics terms. At least you came right out and said it.

by Fritz on Mar 23, 2010 7:50 pm • linkreport

Nice grandstanding there, though I'm not sure for whose benefit. Your dedication to the city as perpetual ghetto is quite touching. I'd prefer to see the income mix of your average American city reflect that ofthe country at large, but whatever my personal preferences, it looks like things are trending towards greater affluence.

But, yes, I'm looking forward to my native city ceasing to be the dumping ground for 90% of the region's poverty, and becoming a multiracial, mixed income, functional community.

by oboe on Mar 23, 2010 9:50 pm • linkreport

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