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Posts about Pedestrian Safety

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Raising awareness can curb street harassment

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.

Photo by Ben Schumin on Flickr.

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.


This bill could make Montgomery's streets better for walking

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.

Pedestrian-unfriendly Colesville Road. Photo by the author.

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.

But complete streets are also better for the county's economy. More people want to live in a walkable community, which translates to rising home prices in places like Silver Spring.

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.


These videos teach bike etiquette with LEGO

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.


Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes

Alexandria cyclists and city staff agree that King Street west of Old Town could use bike lanes. But after a public hearing November 25, the city's Traffic and Parking Board recommended not to build them in order to preserve 37 on-street parking spaces.

Bike supporters at the Traffic and Parking Board meeting. Photo by Jake Jakubek.

Bike lane proponents say it will improve safety and access to the King Street Metro station, while many nearby residents decry the loss of parking spaces that would have to be removed. Originally, city staff proposed eliminating 37 spaces, noting that only three spaces were used on average, and that all affected houses have off-street parking.

However, instead of evaluating a compromise proposal city staff presented that would only remove some 27 spaces and carefully considering public comments, board members were clearly dismissive of the plan and its supporters. James Durham, vice chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, called the hearing "a disgrace."

At the first public meeting on September 18, it was clear that almost everybody considers this street unsafe. Street parking goes unused because residents worry aggressive drivers will damage their parked cars.

After that meeting and an informal consultation with members of the traffic and parking board, city staff decided to work on a compromise proposal. Their reworked plan keeps 10 of the 37 spaces, while adding three spaces on adjacent streets.

At the November meeting, 38 people spoke in favor of the proposal, most of whom were local cyclists. Bike lane supporters included representatives of the city's Environmental Policy Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, who both submitted letters, as well as the chairman of the Transportation Commission. A teacher at T.C. Williams High School spoke on behalf of his students, and a member of the Coalition for Smarter Growth spoke on behalf of that organization, which includes two King Street residents.

Meanwhile, 18 individuals spoke out against adding bike lanes, citing safety concerns and doubting the effectiveness of the proposal. Others mentioned the need to keep the usually empty parking available for visitors.

During the hearing, members of the traffic and parking board displayed almost no interest in the public comments, asking few questions. But in a question directed at Jerry King, chairman of the bicycle and pedestrian committee, one member characterized bike lane supporters as wanting bike lanes or nothing. In fact, no one at the hearing took such a position.

When the leader of Tandem Tuesdays spoke of her weekly bike rides that pair cyclists with sight-impaired people on tandem bicycles, the traffic and parking board showed no interest in her community-building work or her safety concerns. Rather than ask Washington Area Bicyclist Association representative Gregory Billing about his organization's 3,500 participants and supporters in Alexandria, board members rudely asked if he was a city resident.

In the end, the traffic and parking board recommended that city staff implement pedestrian improvements but no bicycling improvements, retain all parking and come back later with a proposal that has "common ground" and "meat." But board members at no time acknowledged that the proposal was already a compromise.

The reality is that Alexandria is working to add transportation capacity by improving access to transit and by developing three new transit corridors. If successful, transit will enable many residents to bypass traffic and avoid the struggle of searching for parking on King Street and elsewhere.

Mayor Bill Euille, who was recently quoted in the press regarding Capital Bikeshare, said it best: "We don't want people driving their cars and parking, we want people to be using bicycles and walking."

However, achieving this vision is no easy task. At a time when City Hall is working to improve the public process through the What's Next Alexandria initiative, we need our boards to be relevant as well as responsive to residents and the vision of the city council. Based on the traffic and parking board's performance November 25, it's clear that board members are none of those things. Can our public decision-making process function when a few of the people leading that process do not act in good faith?

A version of this post appeared in the Alexandria Times.


Van Ness construction could close sidewalk for 2 years

The last time the sidewalk by the Van Ness Square demolition site was closed to pedestrians, it was a temporary measure. But the latest closure could last much longer.

Photo by Pat Davies.

Developer Saul Centers will tear down the shopping center and replace it with a new apartment building. At a pre-construction meeting last week, representatives from Saul told the community that the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk alongside the construction zone will be closed for two years. DDOT regulations won't allow a covered walkway because of underground construction that was too close to the street.

Instead, pedestrians would have to cross to the west side of Connecticut at Albemarle and Windom. By last Saturday, Saul had already closed off the sidewalk, and it was clear how dangerous this situation was going to be.

I saw a blind man walking north in the street and a man with a toddler on his shoulders coming toward him. Of course, the blind man could not see the large sign announcing the closed sidewalk, but the father definitely could.

ANC commissioner Sally Gresham was also out on Saturday afternoon and spent an hour monitoring "how folks were dealing with" the sidewalk closure. "The results are very scary!" she wrote. Gresham counted 102 people walking on Connecticut Avenue itself, including 6 young teenagers on skate boards, 22 strollers with 1, 2, or 3 adults, 35 people carrying bags of groceries or small children, 26 elderly people, and 13 people using canes, walkers, or leg braces.

Luckily, this was the weekend, and parked cars did provide something of a buffer between traffic and pedestrians. But I wondered about the march of pedestrians on automatic pilot during the Monday morning rush hour.

When asked if there will be a police presence to monitor the situation, Commander Reese of the 2nd Police District said the agency would pay attention to it, but did not have enough officers to have them out on the street.

On Monday morning between 8:30 and 9 a.m., I decided to take a look. Most pedestrians were crossing where they should:

All photos by the author unless noted.

But there were quite a number crossing mid-block and walking in the street.

People crossing mid-block on Connecticut Avenue.

People walking in the street.

And with no police in sight. I forgot they were only monitoring the situation.

I emailed the photos to DDOT, and Director Terry Bellamy replied, "I am alerting our Public Space Team to investigate and make recommendations." According to Saul Centers' Kimberly Miller, construction superintendent "Jason" met with DDOT inspectors, who noted that pedestrians weren't following the posted signs, but that the project still complied with DDOT requirements.

This is not a satisfactory outcome. After pondering the issue, and thinking of the places I have traveled that control pedestrian crossings a lot better than we do, the solution came to me on my afternoon walk. I went home and dashed off another email proposing that pedestrian path be controlled through fencing that allows people to enter stores but prevents pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.

New legislation may also improve pedestrian safety around construction sites as well. The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which will take effect December 20, requires anyone seeking permits from DDOT to block a sidewalk or bike lane to also provide a "safe accommodation" for pedestrians and bicyclists to use instead.

As of today, the sidewalk is open again, but it's unclear for how long. Will the council's new legislation make a difference for pedestrians on Connecticut Avenue over the next two years? We will keep you posted.

A version of this post appeared on Forest Hills Connection.


Do bright clothes stop car crashes? Not at Dunkin' Donuts

Highway officials tell pedestrians to wear bright colors so motorists will see you and won't hit you. So why do drivers still crash into brightly-colored Dunkin' Donuts stores?

A driver crashed into a Dunkin' Donuts in Golden's Bridge, New York in 2010. Photo by Golden's Bridge Fire Department.

An internet search found eight cases just this year of drivers smashing into pink and orange doughnut shops. One store in Brooklyn was hit twice, in June of last year and again in January.

One incident involved a motorist who took ill while driving and died in the collision. Otherwise, only a few people were hurt. But the outcome could easily have been worse if someone had been standing in the wrong place.

The excuses drivers make when they strike pedestrians aren't available when they hit Dunkin' Donuts. "I didn't see it" would lack credibility. "It jumped out in front of me" even more so. It should be easy to assign fault when car and store collide.

Yet police chose not to cite the drivers who caused four of these crashes. (One driver died, the driver of a stolen truck is still being sought, and two police departments did not return my calls.) Law enforcement officers seem to think that motorists are under no legal obligation to control their cars. As a Dover, New Hampshire, police lieutenant explained, a woman who hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and smashed into a doughnut store committed no violation because she was sober and not texting.

Motorists have nothing special against Dunkin'. A consultant on retail store safety estimates that Starbucks might get hit as much as once a week. His advice to merchants is to put bollards out front.

Cars colliding with buildings should not be a normal part of life. They are a signal that our highway system is seriously out of whack.

Roads will never be safe unless drivers are held accountable for their ton of deadly steel. One way to start is with fewer lectures about how pedestrians should dress. If bright colors don't protect Dunkin' Donuts, they won't save those on foot.


MD highway planners to pedestrians: you’re on your own

If you're a pedestrian who uses a state road in upper Montgomery County, don't expect much help from the State Highway Administration (SHA).

Photo by Gary Kavanagh on Flickr.

That's the message in highway planners' response to a letter from the Action Committee for Transit (ACT) about pedestrian safety in the upcounty. ACT's letter asked SHA to look at 4 problem areas for pedestrians on state roads designed to prioritize driving over everything else.

At one location, SHA agreed to conduct a pedestrian audit, but did not agree to actually use its audit's recommendations. At 2 others, SHA declined to mark a crosswalk because not enough people use the unmarked crosswalk. And at the fourth, SHA declined to mark a crosswalk because it would inconvenience people in cars.

The first problem area is Germantown Road (Route 118) between Wisteria Drive and the I-270 interchange in Germantown. This stretch of road has up to 9 lanes of high-speed commuter traffic. At least 5 pedestrians have died there in recent years, including a student at Seneca Valley High School.

ACT asked for a pedestrian road safety audit, and SHA agreed to conduct one. This is a good start. But will SHA then do what its own audit recommends? SHA says only that they will evaluate "which suggestions [from the SHA audit] are warranted and feasible".

The second problem area is the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Dairymaid Drive in Germantown. People who live in the townhouses and apartments east of Great Seneca cross here and then follow a desire path to the Kingsview Village shopping center. ACT asked for signs, pavement markings, and engineering so that people can cross safely and conveniently.

SHA responded that too few people cross this intersection on foot to warrant a marked crosswalk. In addition, they explained that a marked crosswalk would be more dangerous, because people might then feel safe crossing there, even though crossing there is not safe. How could SHA make crossing there safe? SHA's letter does not say.

The third problem area is the intersection of Clopper Road (Route 117) and Mateny Road in Germantown. Both drivers and pedestrians have died along this stretch of road in recent years. ACT asked for walk signals and high-visibility pavement markings for all 4 legs of this intersection, as well as signs to alert drivers about people crossing the street on foot.

SHA responded that there are plans (it's not clear whose) for improving the intersection for pedestrians, including marking the crosswalks across Mateny north and south of Clopper. Thus, 3 of the 4 legs will have marked crosswalks, instead of just one. This is good news. However, the fourth leg will still not have a marked crosswalk. SHA explained that a marked crosswalk is unnecessary because not enough people cross there.

In addition, SHA said that they would not mark the crosswalks with high-visibility markings because the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) calls for 2 parallel lines.

The last problem area is the intersection of Route 355 (Frederick Road) and Shady Grove Road, between Gaithersburg and Rockville. A pedestrian needs eight and a half minutes to cross the street here. ACT asked for high-visibility pavement markings, signs, signals, and appropriate walk intervals for all 4 legs of the intersection, in conformance with the Shady Grove Sector Plan.

SHA explained that they can't mark the crosswalk in the south leg of the intersection, for 2 reasons. First, if drivers turn from northbound Shady Grove onto southbound 355 using the combined right-turn/through lane, they cannot see people in the crosswalk well. Second, the amount of car traffic makes a separate pedestrian-only signal phase impractical.

Impractical for whom? Presumably for people in cars, since a marked crosswalk with a walk signal would be very practical for people trying to cross the south leg of the intersection on foot.

7 of the 11 pedestrian deaths in Montgomery County in 2013 so far occurred on state roads. The Montgomery County government says that "crossing the street [should not be] a death defying act" and that engineers should design and operate roads so that people on foot can use them safely and conveniently. Wouldn't it be great if SHA learned this lesson too?


Cleveland Park's shops can thrive without the service lane

Cleveland Park businesses say they need a service lane on Connecticut Avenue. But a new study says that most people walk, bike, or take transit to their shops, suggesting they need a bigger sidewalk instead.

The service lane today. Photo from Google Street View.

The District Department of Transportation recently outlined four options for reconfiguring the service lane along Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway streets, built in 1962. The service lane has just 25 parking spots, but takes up most of the 24.5-foot wide space between the curb and the buildings, leaving just a narrow sliver of sidewalk.

The agency has now released a 330-page study of how people use this block, which found that 80% of Cleveland Park residents walk or bike to shops there, while 61% of all visitors arrive on foot, bike, or transit. The lane's awkward five-way intersections at Macomb and Ordway are unsafe too; a driver crossing there is 6 times as likely to have a collision than one at the bigger intersection of Connecticut and Porter one block away.

Let's talk about merchants, parking, and rush hour

The debate over the service lane is often seen as a conflict between local businesses and the neighborhood. Neighbors say they want more pleasant public spaces, pedestrian amenities, and gathering places, while the merchants say they can't survive without the service lane, ugly and hostile as it is.

Issues with the service lane today. Image from DDOT.

But at the end of the day, we all want this commercial strip to thrive. Most days, I personally eat lunch somewhere on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue. My family depends on Brookville Supermarket for groceries and on CVS and Walgreens for convenience goods. We buy gifts at Wake Up Little Suzy and Transcendence, bread at Firehook, and beer and wine at CP Liquors. And we visit the Uptown Theater as well.

How can we deliver the most customers to our beloved neighborhood stores to make sure we continue to enjoy a vibrant commercial strip?

Image of pedestrian traffic on Connecticut Avenue from DDOT.

Just 12% of Cleveland Park residents and 31% of all visitors come by car. And the service lane doesn't bring that many customers overall. According to the study, average turnover for parking spaces ranges from 75 minutes on weekends to 87 minutes on weekdays. Assuming these spaces are full all the time (and they often aren't), the spaces serve a maximum of around 250 customers each day. Meanwhile, between 200 and 700 pedestrians pass through each hour.

Number of people arriving in Cleveland Park during a weekday evening rush hour.
Graphic by author using DDOT data.

And during an average weekday rush hour (from 4:30 to 7:30pm), the service lane delivers an estimated maximum of 85 people to the neighborhood. During the same three hours, 2,273 people exit the Cleveland Park Metro station and 215 people arrive by bus.

There are better ways to manage parking demand

Cleveland Park's commercial area has about 545 parking spots. Without the service lane, it would have 520. We could destroy the remaining sidewalks in the neighborhood to create parking lots, and then maybe we'd have 570 spaces. Either way, we can't make significant changes to overall parking inventory.

The service lane makes up a small fraction of Cleveland Park's supply of parking spaces.
Image from DDOT.

So it doesn't make sense to focus on the supply of parking, but rather demand management: encouraging turnover and improving the overall parking experience.

DC is one of many cities experimenting with performance parking, which uses variable pricing to ensure that on every block no more than 85% of parking capacity is used at any time. This means that when you need to park somewhere, there's always a spot for you. It also increases turnover, so that any given parking spot delivers more customers per hour.

What Connecticut Avenue would look like without rush hour parking restrictions.
Image from DDOT; annotations by the author.

We can also better manage the supply of parking by ending rush hour restrictions. This would reduce the number of northbound lanes on Connecticut Avenue at rush hour from three lanes to two, but it would give merchants the parking they say they want and help justify restoring the historic sidewalk. It would also improve safety; according to the study, 25% of collisions occur just during the two hours when there are reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue.

Other major commuter routes in Northwest DC, like Massachusetts Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and 16th Street, function just fine with two lanes. "Road diets" of this sort are shown to have a negligible effect on throughput and drive times while vastly improving the pedestrian experience.

A question of neighborhood character

A few years back, when DDOT suggested eliminating 150 curbside spots on 18th Street to make room for wider sidewalks, local business owners were initially taken aback. But they eventually got behind the project, realizing that they had much more to gain by making space for pedestrians. The neighborhood is now much more pleasant as a result, and the commercial corridor is as lively and diverse as ever.

Ultimately this comes down to the kind of neighborhood Cleveland Park wants to be. To some, Cleveland Park is a strip mall where people stop, run an errand or two, and then keep driving. An alternative vision of Cleveland Park's future is one where people come and linger because it's a nice place to be.

Will some customers choose to go where parking is abundant? Perhaps. But Cleveland Park's competitive edge is never going to be that it's easy to park here. It's never been easy to park here, and it never will be. If we're going to talk about competing with other neighborhoods for customers, we should be thinking not of areas where it's easy to drive, but areas like Woodley Park or Dupont Circle, which are more welcoming to pedestrians and have more vibrant public spaces.

How to get involved

To express your support for restoring the historic sidewalk in Cleveland Park, write to You can also sign this petition and participate in this informal survey. DDOT will hold its third and final open house on this study Wednesday, November 6 from 5:30 to 8pm at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW.

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