Posts about Pedestrian Safety
Arlington County wants to create more transportation options in Rosslyn and make it safer and more pleasant to walk or bike there. But the plan the county's working on may undermine that vision by ignoring existing bicycle and pedestrian safety issues.
Realize Rosslyn is a major planning effort; for over a year, Arlington County has been holding meetings, studying travel patterns, examining viewsheds and gathering feedback from all sorts of people who live, work or play in and around Rosslyn.
County planners are currently gathering feedback on a draft policy framework, a sort of vision statement for the plan. Overall it is great policy, calling for things like wider sidewalks, cycle tracks, a better-connected street grid, and connecting Rosslyn to the Potomac. What is missing, however, is any policy for addressing what Arlington cyclists call the "intersection of doom," Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.
This intersection is the most frequent site of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, according to Arlington County Police statistics. In August of 2011, a series of three cyclist injuries occurred within a single week.
The "intersection of doom" forces drivers turning right to cross paths with cyclists going straight. Image from Arlington County and edited by the author.
Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon Trail to the Custis Trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge have to go through this intersection. Passing through the same space are two lanes of traffic trying to turn right to from I-66 to the Key Bridge.
Both groups have a green light at largely the same time. Cyclists and pedestrians get a "leading interval" where the walk sign has turned, but the light is not yet green for cars. Without a "no turn on red" sign for the cars, however, drivers can still turn right into the crosswalk while people are still in it.
This intersection presents many challenges. Arlington County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the National Park Service and private individuals all own land right around this intersection. Any construction work in the area has the potential to significantly snarl bicycle, pedestrian and auto traffic.
Meanwhile, simple fixes like a "no turn on red" prohibition for the I-66 cars only address part of the problem and would likely back traffic up onto the highway. And there are viewsheds that people would like to protect, sensitive habitats, mature trees, and significant hills to contend with. That said, the status quo is clearly unsafe and a solution needs to be found.
Arlington is working on several projects that could address this problem. The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements Project would improve sight lines, shorten crossing distances, and provide some additional space for bicycles and pedestrians at this spot.
But it will not fix the root issue, which is that a large crowd of bikes, pedestrians and cars all have a green light at the same time. In addition, it is LONG delayed. The last time there was a public meeting, construction was slated to begin in 2013. The current schedule has it beginning in 2015.
In 2011, GGW contributor Steve Offutt proposed relocating the I-66 off ramp as one solution. Many folks think the proposal for an air rights development rights over I-66 provides a great opportunity to do that.
Whatever fix is decided on, the Realize Rosslyn framework needs to acknowledge that there is a problem. It is great that the plan calls for new trails and cycle tracks, and it is great that the plan calls for new parks and wider sidewalks, but the plan must also recognize that our current trail is unsafe and include a policy to implement a real, long-term solution.
This Tuesday, March 18, the Arlington County Board will vote on a "request to advertise" the policy framework at their 6:45 pm board meeting at the County Board Room, 2100 Clarendon Blvd #300 in Courthouse. Please consider coming out and letting the Board know that this is an unacceptable oversight in the plans for Rosslyn.
In 2012, DC changed the traffic patterns on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park to make it more friendly to pedestrians, then reversed course following strong complaints from many Georgetown residents including Councilmember Jack Evans. The issue came up in my interviews with Evans and Mayor Vince Gray.
I asked every candidate about the way the government can spend a lot of time planning a project, build community support, and still then later run into a lot of people who say they never heard about it or want to block it. Gray brought up this project in his response. He said,
We've seen in some parts of the city when a lane was changed and it was done with the concurrence of the people who lived in that area, who then railed against it in the aftermath and now it's being put back like it was.
I think that you've got to stay the course. I happen to live on a street that was changed, where when people saw a change there was enormous negative reaction to it: Branch Avenue, which went from being two not sufficiently wide lanes on either side of the street, in my opinion
— we saw lots of accidents there — to being one lane on either side. There were people that were up in arms. They wanted to put it back like it was. Now, people have adapted. It's taken a number of years, no question about that, but people have adapted.
We have to work with communities around what do these proposals mean for their lives. Make sure there's community input on how we get to the answer. And then once we do, we've got to stay the course if we believe, earnestly, these changes will make life better for folks.
People hate sitting in traffic. The answer is not to give more streets. The answer is to give other options to folks, other ways of traveling, other methods of traveling, and then you've got to swallow hard and stay with it.
Jack Evans disagrees. I asked him specifically about the Glover Park issue, and he said,
It was a complete disaster ... Even the ANC chair, Brian Cohen who was the spearhead of it, and Jackie Blumenthal came to the position that it was a complete disaster. It wasn't just me, it was everyone who realized that narrowing Wisconsin Avenue to 1 lane going north in rush hour just wasn't working. You were backing traffic all the way past the Safeway all the way to R Street, and that wasn't working for anybody.To be precise, the plan did not make Wisconsin Avenue 1 lane at rush hour; there was a part-time parking lane people could drive in during rush hour. However, it was 1 lane outside rush hour, and according to Glover Park resident and GGW contributor Abigail Zenner, times like school pick-up around 2-3 pm were worse for traffic than rush hour itself.
I think the lesson that we take from that is they try something that doesn't work, but can then pivot and maneuver rather than sticking to something that was just causing chaos. What you were doing, as you know, by having that center lane with stripes on it, people were starting to cut around, creating a very dangerous situation. I'm glad that people were starting to recognize that.
What if some of the details like these had worked better, I asked, but drivers still found themselves delayed by a minute or two? Evans said, "If we were talking about a minute or two. We were talking about a half hour."
At one ANC meeting last year, DDOT reported that driving times had increased by 2 minutes. But, Zenner said, "since then I have not been able to get my hands on any more data. My unscientific anecdotal experience also backed up the two minute claim. I have never experienced a half hour back-up, although I have heard a lot of people say things like that."
Evans doesn't buy it. "As you've heard me testify many times, if it was a minute or two we wouldn't be here. Don't take my word for it, take the word of the proponents of the project, Brian, Jackie and others, who came to the conclusion. 80-90% of people in the neighborhood hated it. It was a universally hated idea. "
But, I asked, any change to a roadway will engender significant opposition. How do you differentiate legitimate problems with a project from knee-jerk opposition to change? Evans said,
You have to deal with each individual situation. The 15th Street bike lanes would be an example where we got tons of complaints, but it worked and we kept it in place. We didn't respond to the complaints. It's quieted down, but we still get complaints about the bike lanes. Most people quieted down and now accept it for what it is. The important thing is you have to be able to respond and not take a rigid view.Evans did complain about the 15th Street lane at first, also, but changed his tune. Part of that might have come from a bike ride I organized to take him around the ward to the various bike lanes (an experience he referenced in the interview). And, indeed, he has not fought the 15th Street lane, or the L and M Street lanes crosstown.
Vehicle speed kills. Even a small increase in speed can mean the difference between life and death for a pedestrian. But laws limiting speed camera enforcement make them less effective at making our streets safer.
At 20 miles per hour, when a motorist hits a pedestrian, the pedestrian has a 90 percent chance of surviving the crash. At 30 miles per hour, the chance of survival has dropped to 50%. At 40 miles per hour, the pedestrian has a 90% chance of dying.
Graphic from PEDS Atlanta.
In Maryland, speed camera tickets can only be issued to motorists going at least 12 miles per hour over the speed limit. That severely blunts the effectiveness of the cameras for saving lives.
In my neighborhood on the east side of Greenbelt, the city has installed speed cameras on 2 neighborhood streets near Eleanor Roosevelt High School. One of the cameras is near a well-used, mid-block crosswalk that many students use. The speed limit in these areas is 25 mph, which means that drivers have to be going 37 mph before they get a ticket.
A collision at 25 mph would be less than 50% likely to kill a pedestrian. But a collision at 37 mph would bring an almost 90% chance of death.
On Monday, I witnessed a driver flying down the street, well above the speed limit. But I wondered if he was even going fast enough to get a ticket from the speed camera. Even on a quiet neighborhood street, drivers in Greenbelt can go fast enough to cause almost certain death for pedestrians without fearing a speed camera ticket.
That's the real effect of Maryland's speed camera restrictions: It allows drivers some leeway, but puts vulnerable road users at risk.
But it's actually worse than that, because the speed limit itself is actually determined using the arcane "85th percentile speed" in many places, including by the Maryland State Highway Administration. While that's not a factor on my street, it is on other streets nearby, and throughout the state.
Essentially, highway engineers look at how fast people drive. And they set the speed limit for what 85% of motorists drive. So, for example, on a street, if 85% of drivers go 40 mph, the speed limit is set at 40, even if circumstances (like the presence of a school) suggest that it should be lower.
And remember, that our highways are already designed for speed. The concept of driver forgiveness means that engineers try to design broad curves, wide lanes, and open spaces so that if a driver makes a mistake, it won't be fatal (for the driver). But these design choices also give subtle psychological hints to drivers to go faster.
And then they set the speed limits based on how fast drivers actually go. And then we limit automated enforcement to 12 mph over that. The result, of course, is that when a pedestrian is struck, the chance of survival is far too low. Especially in the suburbs.
Maryland could help by lowering the threshold for automated speed enforcement. In the District, there is no threshold for speed cameras. A driver can be ticketed for going just 1 mile per hour over the limit.
Early Friday morning, 61-year old Joseph Brown was walking to Metro. The sidewalk he wanted to use on the Sousa Bridge was full of snow plowed off the street, and he chose to walk in the roadway instead. When a driver killed him, DC police gave him a posthumous citation.
We've talked a lot in recent weeks about the failure of property owners to clear their sidewalks. Unfortunately, snowy sidewalks are often more than an inconvenience. And this weekend the abysmal condition of one DC sidewalk turned deadly for Brown. To add insult to injury, according to NBC4, the Metropolitan Police issued him a citation for walking in the roadway. As if he had a choice.
We could look to the adjacent property owners, I suppose. After all, under DC law, they're required to clear the sidewalks in the public right-of-way adjacent to their property. But we won't get far. This incident happened on the Sousa Bridge, where Pennsylvania Avenue crosses the Anacostia
In this case, the responsibility for clearing this sidewalk rests with the District government, and the Department of Public Works does actually work to clear bridges. But at the time of Mr. Brown's death, less than 24 hours after the snow ended, they hadn't yet cleared the Sousa Bridge sidewalks.
Does the system work?
Sidewalks are a vital and integral part of the District's transportation infrastructure. They're not just some accessory put there to make the street look nicer. People rely on sidewalks to get around the city. Additionally, sidewalks are fundamental to transit access. If the sidewalks are impassible, people can't walk to the bus stop or Metro station.
If not all, most of the jurisdictions in the region rely on property owners to clear sidewalks. That's the law on the books, though it doesn't appear any of the jurisdictions enforce it. Whether or not that policy makes any sense (after all, we don't rely on property owners to clear the street in front of their homes and businesses), it wouldn't have made any difference to Joseph Brown.
Some people do shovel the walkways in front of their properties. Sometimes they even do it for their neigbors. But other property owners don't, leaving a patchwork of sidewalks that are inaccessible and often dangerous.
There are penalties for not clearing the sidewalk in front of your property, but that law is rarely enforced. And without enforcement or a government effort to clear the walk, the snow remains for days. In places where plows have piled it on sidewalks, it can last for even longer.
What that says is that many local jurisdictions think it's okay to close down one fundamental part of the network. Hundreds of workers are dispatched to sand and salt roads and plow snow across the region. But when it comes to sidewalks, the District and the other jurisdictions prefer the Atlanta approach: wait until it melts.
And if we just had a few inches of snow, that might not be so bad. But across the region the sidewalk is simply the place plows deposit the snow. Those massive deposits take forever to melt, and with no crews (or neighbors) to help clear them, they can make sidewalks impassible for weeks.
After two inches of snow crippled the Atlanta region for days and stranded commuters in their cars on freeways for more than 24 hours, Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal took tremendous heat for not doing enough.
In Metropolitan Washington, we generally don't let our roadways turn into ice rinks. We're prepared. But when it comes to sidewalks, none of the officials in the region do anything. And they rarely seem to get heat for it either.
When tragedy strikes, it's far easier to simply blame the victim. After all, he's the one who walked in the roadway. Never mind that the sidewalk was essentially closed for the winter, like many sidewalks in the region are, even today.
Barracks Row Main Street recently presented two design alternatives for a new plaza at the Eastern Market Metro station. Both concepts go a long way to uniting the plaza, which is currently broken up into six pieces, while making it greener, cleaner, easier to traverse, and more inviting.
Last month, architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates and landscape architect Lisa Delplace of Oehme van Sweden revealed the two concepts at a public meeting. Both designs bring life to the unkempt, desolate green space that's there today by adding fountains, play areas for children and adults, and public art. Barracks Row Main Street is accepting public comments on the two designs through the end of this week.
Proposals include a mini-Capitol Hill, shady forest
Each design addresses each of the plaza's six pieces, which are divided by Pennsylvania Avenue and 8th Street SE, and include the two median strips on Penn.
Parcel 1 is the northeast corner of the plaza and one of the two largest parcels. Both concepts turn it into a pair of "play" areas, one fenced in for children, and another open area for adults, which are separated by a diagonal path between Pennsylvania and South Carolina avenues.
In Concept A, the children's area would be larger and have two themed "playscapes," including a miniature Capitol Hill with the Capitol building, and a tiny Anacostia Watershed with rubber berms for climbing and rolling and a river with playable pumps and water wheels. In Concept B, there would be a smaller children's area themed after the Navy Yard, without any miniature buildings.
On the adjacent lawn, people can sun, do yoga, read, and socialize. This area would be larger in Concept B and have hedges along the north and west sides to create more separation from the street and homes.
Parcel 4 is the other large parcel in the southwest corner, where the Metro entrance is located. Both concepts include another lawn, as well as an interactive fountain, an "infohub," a busking area, and a redesigned Capital Bikeshare station and parking area. In Concept A, the space becomes a "shade tree bosque" with trees, tables, and chairs in a bed of gravel.
Meanwhile, Concept B proposes an extension of the Southeast Neighborhood Library in a pavilion in the plaza, which would connect to the rest of the library in a tunnel under 7th Street SE.
Parcels 2 & 5 are the medians. While community members are interested in turning them into usable park space or adding bike lanes, DDOT asked the design team not to consider these options until the agency does its own corridor-wide study of the area.
Instead, the design team proposed new landscaping with barriers to discourage jaywalking. Concept A would add fenced-in bioswales that collect and filter stormwater, while Concept B adds raised, planted medians, like those on Connecticut Avenue.
Parcels 3 & 6 are the small islands on the northwest and southeast corners of the plaza. In both concepts, they would become bioswales surrounded by a continuous bench.
The design team took time to discuss additional issues important to the community. They talked about preserving existing trees, which many residents wanted, as well as which other trees might be appropriate for planting there. The designers also talked about ways to solve the plaza's rat problem, such as solar-powered trash cans, trees that repel rats, and eliminating standing water.
The designers also looked at ways to increase pedestrian safety with refuge islands and curb extensions. To improve traffic flow, they considered removing D Street on the south side, east of 8th, and reversing the direction of D Street on the north and south sides of the plazas. Finally, they proposed some moving bus stops, taxi stands, and car sharing spaces.
No one will love every one of these ideas, and there are some desirable amenities that neither design includes, like a dog park. But there are some really interesting ideas in these plans, and either concept would go far in making the plaza more of a park, rather than a place you just walk through to get somewhere else.
For women and LGBT individuals, street harassment can make using streets, parks, and public transportation unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. Raising awareness about their experiences can discourage this behavior and produce more sensitive planning as well.
Street harassment is sexual harassment or assault that happens in public places. It generally targets women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Harassment can include vulgar remarks, insults, stalking, leering, fondling, indecent exposure, and other forms of public humiliation. It can vary in severity, starting with words, but can lead to more violent crimes like rape, assault, and murder.
Although many people experience street harassment daily, they often do not talk back, report, or fight. Collective Action for Safe Spaces, the group that pushed Metro to address assault on trains, is organizing DC residents to speak out against harassment and advocate for safer spaces.
Part of CASS' mission is to educate and empower harassed groups by reminding them that this kind of harassment does not have to be tolerated. Recently, the group focused its effort on DDOT's moveDC transportation plan to make sure that the agency takes street harassment into account.
When co-founder Chai Shenoy and executive director Zosia Sztykowski discussed safety issues with DDOT, agency officials primarily talked about driver safety. They wanted to tell DDOT that the built environment and the design of streets and transit facilities can have an impact on safety.
CASS began a campaign to raise awareness in response to DDOT's public outreach moveDC meetings. When DDOT surveyed residents about their transportation needs, CASS encouraged people to encourage the agency to plan for safety. CASS endorsed creating better connections between neighborhoods, as well as initiatives focused on pedestrian safety and public spaces, like Safe Routes to School.
Previously, CASS successfully organized people to speak about their experiences with sexual harassment on Metro. By speaking out about the issue at public meetings and encouraging victims to tell their stories, they pushed WMATA to start a public awareness campaign, train workers to confront harassment and generally create safer stations and trains for riders. Metro also became the first public transit system to have a reporting system for harassment.
Street safety is not always discussed as part of the built environment. As planners ask the community about their wants and needs, they could ask residents how they feel moving through the environment or what barriers there are to using transit.
Safety walks can also both empower community members to take back their streets and identify areas for improvement. Some simple design factors such as wider sidewalks, better lighting, tree placement, and more open and accessible places can go a long way to combating street harassment.
For instance, long waits to cross the street is one way that pedestrians can become targets. Shorter wait times allow people to get away from a potential assailant.
Feeling safe moving through one's environment is an important goal and should certainly be a part of the conversation. Safety as a goal in and of itself may not be the best way to plan a city, but working on issues such as lighting and wait times can make a big difference in someone's life.
Ultimately, speaking out about street harassment and sexual assault can go a long way in changing the culture and make it clear that it is never okay to cat-call a woman walking along the street or waiting for a bus.
Montgomery County's urban areas are growing, but their wide, fast streets, designed to prioritize drivers over everyone else, are holding them back. A new bill going before the County Council could level the playing field for pedestrians and cyclists.
Last month, Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer introduced several amendments to the county's Road Code, notably to reduce the "target speed," which is usually the speed limit, of new or rebuilt streets. All streets in urban areas would be designed for speeds of 25 mph, or between 30 and 40 mph on suburban arterials. On smaller residential streets, the target speed would be 20 mph.
To achieve those lower speeds, in urban areas like Silver Spring, the bill would allow lanes no wider than 10 feet, tighter curb radii at intersections, and curb bumpouts, which reduce the distance pedestrians have to cross a street. It also lets developers work with the county to put bikeshare stations or car charging outlets in their projects.
"The overarching goal of this bill is to…facilitate the implementation of pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, walkable, livable urban areas as envisioned" in county plans for areas like White Flint and Wheaton, write Berliner and Riemer in a memo to the council.
Bill 33-13, as it's officially called, is an update of the county's Road Code, which was approved in 2008 as an attempt to create "complete streets" that accommodate pedestrians and cyclists in addition to drivers. To offer recommendations, County Executive Ike Leggett convened a 24-member task force, including representatives from groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, as well as AAA. Many of the bill's progressive features fell by the wayside due to AAA pressure to allow wider roads and remove street trees, which spokesperson Lon Anderson called a hazard to drivers.
Berliner and Riemer's amendments will help the Road Code fulfill its original purpose. Whether in emerging urban places like Wheaton or older communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring that were built before cars became common, wide, fast streets are unpleasant to walk on at best, and at worst, a danger to pedestrians. This bill will make those streets safer by slowing traffic and forcing drivers to pay attention.
Streets that are nicer to walk or bike along mean more foot traffic, which means more customers for local shops and restaurants. And studies show that pedestrians and cyclists spend as much if not more at businesses than drivers do. That's especially good news for the county's Nighttime Economy Initiative, which seeks to encourage nightlife in its urban areas.
As in 2008, this bill could face resistance both now and if it's passed. The county's Department of Transportation has been reluctant to create more pedestrian-friendly streets in White Flint or even in school zones. Despite efforts to promote pedestrian safety, county police still side with drivers even when those on foot aren't breaking the law.
Berliner and Riemer's bill deserves all the support it can get. But for it to be successful, we'll need a change of attitude towards pedestrians and cyclists. Some will call lower speed limits and curb bumpouts an inconvenience to drivers, but they remove barriers to making Montgomery County a better and more prosperous place to live.
The County Council will have a public hearing about Bill 33-13 Thursday, January 23 at 7:30 pm at the Council Office Building, located at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. To sign up or for more information, you can visit the county's website.
How can we show cyclists, drivers, and everyone else on the street how to share? The city of Edmonton, Alberta produced these
five six excellent videos using LEGO figures teaching the new rules of the road.
Interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers can often be contentious. Lighthearted videos like this can help everyone understand their rights and responsibilities in the urban realm.
Thanks to WABA for the heads-up.
- Shepherd Park neighbors tell car2go users to stay out
- Do you know the station? It's whichWMATA week 15
- A sunken gas station sculpture sends the wrong message about the Anacostia River
- See the view from a Silver Line train with this video
- Should adding more housing be illegal even when neighbors support it?
- See 32 years of DC bike lane growth in one animation
- Montgomery and DC officials start talking about working together on transit