Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrians


Construction companies are illegally blocking sidewalks. Let's do something about it

Walking around DC is great, but walkers also encounter many spots where it is just not as safe to walk as it ought to be. A new group, All Walks DC, is organizing to promote pedestrian safety through legislation and better street design. One of the biggest problems today is construction zones.


Connecticut Avenue. Photo by Joe Riener.

The law already requires construction companies to provide "safe accommodation" past construction sites that block the sidewalks, according to District Department of Transportation (DDOT) official Matthew Marcou. But many companies are simply blocking the sidewalk and posting a sign.

Over the weekend, volunteers photographed over a dozen construction sites, including the new American University Law School under construction at Yuma Street and Tenley Circle NW, where there are only signs saying "sidewalk closed." DC pedestrians will not consider that "safe accommodation."


Construction at Washington College of Law. Photo by Joe Riener.

At several sites, pedestrians were walking in the street, next to rapidly moving traffic. This was precisely the hazard that legislation sought to prevent.


Shaw. Photo by the author.

Do you know of some sidewalks blocked due to construction? Tweet them with the hashtag #DCblockwalk, and let @MaryCheh and @DDOTDC know as well! You can also follow us @AllWalksDC. We need to let our public officials know that DC's developers are not being held accountable for safety.

This is just one of many issues All Walks DC plans to work on. We also will advocate for:

  • Release of specific, detailed data about incidents where drivers hit pedestrians in DC. DDOT has such data, but does not give it to the public. Without this data, residents don't know where the most dangerous intersections or streets are, and can't advocate for changes where it would do the most good.
  • Far greater use of traffic calming devices, like pedestrian safety islands in the middle of high-traffic streets, pedestrian-activated traffic signals, or raised crosswalks, particularly around schools and parks, to protect people walking.
  • Stronger legislation for construction zones that would require construction companies to provide a scaffolding-protected path during construction.
  • Greater enforcement of existing traffic laws, particularly those involving drivers yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks.
  • A Vision Zero policy where police, the transportation department, transit agencies, and elected leaders do what it takes to eliminate any pedestrian fatalities. No one should be killed while walking in DC.
  • Additional traffic calming measures that would keep DC streets from being mere thoroughfares for suburban commuters during rush hours.
You can join us by emailing us at AllWalksDC@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.

In the coming months, we'll be engaging with our neighbors and leaders through public meetings and advocacy campaigns, so expect to hear more from us!

Pedestrians


Maryland Avenue will get safer, but must someone always get hurt before temporary fixes can happen?

After a driver hit a DC librarian on a dangerous stretch of Maryland Avenue NE, DC will install temporary barriers to expand sidewalks at the corners:

"Bulb-outs," which narrow streets at the corners so that pedestrians don't have to cross as far, are a proven way to reduce pedestrian crashes and generally slow down traffic. Drivers then can't take the turns at as high a speed, so they have more time to see people waiting to cross.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will temporarily create these bulb-outs at the corner of Maryland Avenue and D and 7th streets, NE with plastic bollards, which are quick and cheap to use. According to a post on DDOT Dish, in the fall the plastic at Maryland Avenue will give way to large planters and brick-colored pavement.

The agency put in temporary plastic curbs at the corner where 15th, W, Florida and New Hampshire NW come together. As in this case, that change happened right after a crasha fatal one in May, 2009. There is a permanent design for that intersection, but permanent projects can take many years.

In the meantime, temporary changes can keep an intersection safe. Plus, they give everyone a chance to see how a potential change works. Right now, DDOT only sets up temporary measures after someone gets killed or almost killed. DC could make streets safer now by using temporary curbs more often and earlier in the design process.

Pedestrians


843 people died walking in the DC region in the last 10 years

Over half of recent pedestrian deaths in our region happened on wide, high-speed arterial roads. When will traffic engineers, elected officials, and residents get serious about fixing dangerous street designs?


Pedestrians navigate Virginia's Route 1 without sidewalks. Photo by Cheryl Cort.

A new report out today from the National Complete Streets Coalition chronicles pedestrian fatalities and injuries and ranks every state, metro region and county based upon the degree of danger pedestrians face.

Our region fares relatively well, ranking 35 out of the 51 largest metro areas (with 1 being the most dangerous). At the same time, the report found that 843 pedestrians were killed in the region from 2003 to 2012an unacceptable number no matter the DC region's current ranking. The danger for minorities, young people, and older adults, as well as those walking along suburban arterial roads, is particularly high.

In state rankings, Maryland placed 15th and Virginia 22nd, and DC 49th on the Pedestrian Danger Index. That combines fatality rates and the share of local commuters who walk to work. 269 of Maryland's fatalities occurred in Prince George's County, accounting for over 30% of the region's deaths.

The report includes an online, interactive map showing the locations where drivers have fatally struck people walking. It includes several tragic examples documented on this blog, such as the elementary school principal in Loudoun County who was killed trying to cross a four-lane, 35 mph road.

The report also highlights the inequality of traffic violence, with older adults, children and minorities dying in disproportionate numbers. In each jurisdiction, Hispanics suffered an average pedestrian death rate higher than non-Hispanic whites; the rate is 135% higher in DC. African-Americans have fared similarly in recent years, dying 126% more often in DC.

While they comprise about 10% of the overall population, older adults accounted for 15-22% of pedestrian fatalities. Tragically, children under the age of 15 are also frequently at risk: from 2003 to 2010, 47 children in Virginia, 71 children in Maryland, and 11 children in DC were killed while walking.


Comparison of national pedestrian danger for various demographic groups. Image from the report.

"We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety, to take nearly 5,000 lives a year nationwidea number that increased six percent between 2011 and 2012," said Roger Millar, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. "Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of Complete Streets policies to improve safety and comfort for people walking."

Across the Washington, DC region, jurisdictions have been working in recent years to make their streets safer and more welcoming for pedestrians. Most jurisdictions in this region have adopted Complete Streets policies to make walking safe for all users, though physically redesigning dangerous streets has been slow.

In the Washington region, a few examples of complete streets include wider sidewalks and "bulbouts" on Georgia Avenue in Petworth to ease crossings, and a redesign of Lawyers Road in Reston that took a four lane road to two lanes plus bike lanes and a middle turn lane. VDOT officials say they've seen a 77% reduction in crashes since the redesign.


Bill Deatherage, of the Kentucky Council of the Blind, walking along Louisville, KY's Brownsboro Road before and after sidewalk construction. Photo by Anne M. McMahon, courtesy of Smart Growth America.

According to the report, arterial roads present the greatest danger to pedestrians: in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, a majority of pedestrian deaths occurred on high-speed arterials. Rockville Pike or Route 1 are examples of arterial roads that have both local businesses and destinations that attract pedestrians, while also trying to move regional traffic through at high speeds.

Several jurisdictions are trying to reinvent places like Tysons Corner, White Flint, or Route 1 as walkable, mixed-use destinations, but it will be imperative to redesign the arterials that divide those communities if they are to succeed.

Unfortunately, many obstacles to safer streets remain. Especially in the suburbs, old plans with inertia continue to move places in the wrong direction, including adding lanes to Route 7 in the core of Tysons. In DC, pedestrian advocates are still simply seeking transparent pedestrian crash data from DDOT to be able to better identify the most dangerous intersections.

Everyone deserves the ability to walk safely to home, work, school, or get groceries. As more people make the sustainable, healthy choice to walk, the dangers of our auto-oriented infrastructure are becoming more apparent. This report should be a wakeup call to traffic engineers, elected officials, and all of us. New York City has set a goal for zero traffic deaths in 10 years. Are we ready for the challenge?

Pedestrians


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.

Pedestrians


"Dave Thomas Circle" could get fixes or disappear entirely

A new study of pedestrian and bicycle safety along Florida Avenue NE is suggesting changes to the "virtual" traffic circle at New York and Florida Avenues. In the long run, that "circle" and the nearby Wendy's could become a simpler intersection and green space.


The current "circle" and short-term fixes. Images from DDOT. Click to enlarge.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created the "virtual circle" arrangement as an "interim solution" in 2010 to deal with this difficult intersection. It was very difficult to navigate on foot or bike, and which had seen some very serious crashes.

The circle pattern routes traffic heading eastbound on Florida counter-clockwise along First and O Streets. It got the nickname "Dave Thomas Circle" because that triangle circumnavigates a Wendy's, and to play off the name for Thomas Circle. Wendy's also has many driveways connecting to the surrounding roads, and Eckington Place NE joins the tangle of roads here as well.

Since DDOT set up the "circle," the severity and number of crashes has gone down, said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's planning head who is overseeing the study. However, many people find it confusing and it takes up a lot of space.

Once, some suggested an interchange

At the time this pattern was conceived, DDOT studies recommended building a new overpass or tunnel so New York Avenue traffic could bypass the intersection. Some plans suggested extending the I-395 tunnel from its current terminus near 4th Street NW past Florida Avenue.


Image from the 2006 DDOT study.

But a 2006 NCPC study raised concerns about new tunnels or bridges. NCPC worried about how new large-scale auto infrastructure would create an even larger pedestrian barrier in the nascent NoMa neighborhood and between other adjacent areas. Since then, DDOT has largely dropped the idea of tunneling as a solution.

What could replace the circle?

The Florida study proposes some options to simplify the intersection. They would eliminate some turns, delete the block of O Street that's now part of the "circle," and either eliminate the block of First Street or reroute it to connect to Eckington Place NE.


2 options to replace the "circle."

Florida and New York Avenues would get a bit wider to make room for turning lanes instead of the "jughandles" of the old design. Adding this right-of-way would almost certainly mean the city would have to take the Wendy's by eminent domain. But that could make the intersection significantly better for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

It would also open up some land for green space or other uses. The National Capital Planning Commission has long envisioned this intersection as a potential future memorial site. In 2001 they named it as one of their top 20 "Prime Sites" in the region in the Memorials and Museums Master Plan.

In addition to the longer-term proposals, later this year DDOT will make minor modifications to tweak how this intersection works. That includes changing which lanes get used for which types of turns, striping bike lanes, and adding new signs.

One change will widen the turn radius at some key spots so that the 90s buses can traverse the circle. When DDOT set up the circle arrangement, Metro discovered its buses couldn't fit, and had to reroute them onto North Capitol Street, adding minutes of extra time for every rider.

Roads


Turn on a bulb-out to protect White Flint pedestrians

If Montgomery County is serious about creating walkable places, it must fix dangerous intersections like Hoya Street and Montrose Road in White Flint. Drivers turning right from southbound Hoya to Montrose can't see pedestrians beginning to cross. A bulb-out would make pedestrians visible and the intersection safer.

Last fall, my mother tried to cross here, and told me that she would have been run over here if she had crossed when the walk signal turned green. So I went to see for myself. Recent pedestrian safety improvements had not made the intersection safe. Drivers turning right from Hoya onto Montrose can't see pedestrians on the north side of Montrose Road because a wall at the Monterey Apartments complex blocks drivers' view.

That wall was there before the pedestrian improvements. Why hadn't the changes included a solution for this hazard?


Image from Google Maps.

The Hoya/Montrose intersection was part of the $117 million Montrose Parkway West project. Before 2010, Montrose Road intersected Old Georgetown Road here, before crossing Rockville Pike and becoming Randolph Road on the other side. But in 2010, Montgomery County finished building the adjacent Montrose Parkway at a cost of $70 million.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) also finished their own $47.2 million project, which removed the intersection between Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. The end result is that Montrose Road now ends at what used to be part of Old Georgetown Road, now renamed Hoya Street, while Old Georgetown meets Rockville Pike farther south.

Pedestrian safety improvements followed between 2010 and 2012: new curb ramps, a pedestrian refuge in the median of Hoya Street, an improved pedestrian island between the main part of Montrose Road and the slip lane onto southbound Hoya Street, and a marked crosswalk across the slip lane. And yet, nobody in MCDOT or SHA fixed the hazard the wall causes. Why not?


Photo by Peter Blanchard on Flickr.

When asked via email how to make this intersection safe for pedestrians, Bruce Mangum, head of MCDOT's signals engineering team, said that they will add two signs reading "Turning Traffic Yield To Pedestrians." One will put one on the traffic signal and the other at street level just behind the curb.

Mangum added that "[n]o amount of engineering (signs, signals, pavement markings) can assure safe intersection operations unless motorists and pedestrians alike know and recognize their respective responsibilities." But a few more signs won't make this intersection safe. Research shows that these signs don't significantly increase the likelihood of drivers yielding to pedestrians during right turns. So extra signage likely won't help. And that's at intersections where the drivers can see the pedestrians. Even the most responsible drivers and pedestrians can't see through a wall.

Fortunately, there actually is an engineering solution that can make the intersection safe: a bulb-out (also called a curb extension), where the sidewalk extends farther toward the middle of the road.

With a bulb-out into Montrose Road, a driver making a right turn would be able to see pedestrians waiting to cross. Also, pedestrians would only cross one lane of traffic, instead of two.

It's true that a bulb-out would reduce westbound Montrose Road from two lanes to one at the intersection. But since Montrose Road no longer connects with Rockville Pike, it doesn't need two lanes there anyway. Plus, since this intersection is part of Montgomery County's transformational 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, pedestrian safety and walkability should be the priority.

Signs alone won't make this intersection safe for pedestrians. Sooner or later, a right-turning driver will hit a pedestrian here. Installing a bulb-out would prevent this from happening. MCDOT, please do it.

Pedestrians


Florida Avenue NE and nearby streets could get wider sidewalks and bike lanes

Florida Avenue, NE and other roads in the area could become safer and more comfortable to walk and bike along in the future. The public will get to see several options this week that would widen sidewalks and add bike lanes to key roads.


Photo by Yancey Burns reproduced with permission.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT), along with consultants Kittelson & Associates and Rhodeside & Harwell, has been working with the community for the past 6 months to identify safety issues in this area. Florida Avenue suffers from extremely narrow sidewalks, with less than 2 feet of space directly in front of many homes and across from Gallaudet University. That width doesn't meet ADA guidelines.

Officials have said there is room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, since the current traffic volume on Florida does not warrant more than 2 motor vehicle lanes in each direction.

Currently, the number of lanes on Florida varies from 2 to 6 within the span of a few blocks. Some of the lanes on Florida are also quite wide, up to 17 feet. DDOT will present projections for traffic up to 2040 and considering upcoming land use changes, to demonstrate that more lanes aren't necessary in the future either.

DDOT will propose four alternatives. All widen sidewalks to varying extents. Plus,

  • Alternatives 1a and 1b widen the sidewalk while keeping 6 lanes for motor vehicles.
  • Alternative 2 adds narrower painted bike lanes along the curb on each side, and creates a center turn lane along with 4 travel lanes.
  • Alternative 3 skips the center turn lane and adds a buffer alongside the bike lanes, to give cyclists some extra distance from fast-moving cars.


Cross-sections for Florida Avenue: Current 1a 1b 2 3
Images from DDOT.

On 6th Street north of Florida Avenue, which separates Gallaudet University from the Florida Avenue Market, the lanes are 22 feet wide, or more than double typical widths. For this segment, there are three options:

  • Wider sidewalks and and painted bike lanes, plus "curb extensions" (also known as "bulb-outs") to shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross (Alternative 1)
  • Wider sidewalks and a cycle track in each direction, plus curb extensions (Alternative 2)
  • A "curbless flex space" along the market side of the road and a two-way cycle track on the Gallaudet side (Alternative 3)


Cross-sections for 6th Street: Current 1a 2 3
Images from DDOT.

The agency also plans to reconstruct 6th Street between K Street and Florida Avenue, NE; West Virginia Avenue NE; and "Dave Thomas Circle," at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenue (which currently has a Wendy's in the center, hence the nickname). DDOT's report will also likely include some safety improvements within the Florida Avenue Market.

Officials will present the proposals at a public meeting Wednesday, April 2, at the Two Rivers PCS Middle School building on 1234 4th Street, NE, at 7 pm. Feedback from this week's meeting will shape the final report, expected later this spring.

The agency has not announced construction dates for any of the projects. Before it can build anything, changes will also have to go into the regional Constrained Long-Range Plan, which according to DDOT planning head Sam Zimbabwe is the reason the agency can't make any temporary changes to try out new configurations and make the road safer in the meantime.

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