Posts about Pedestrians
As new homes, offices, and shops sprout around the region's Metro stations, Forest Glen has remained a holdout due to neighborhood resistance to new construction. But that may change as WMATA seeks someone to build there.
Last month, the agency put out a call for development proposals at Forest Glen, in addition to West Hyattsville and Largo Town Center in Prince George's County and Braddock Road in Alexandria. WMATA owns 8 acres at Forest Glen, most of which is a parking lot, and developers have already expressed interest in building there.
Forest Glen should be a prime development site. While it's on the busy Red Line, it's one of Metro's least-
On one side of the Metro station is a townhouse development that's about 10 years old, while across the street are 7 new single-family homes. The land the parking lot sits on is valuable, and it's likely that WMATA will get proposals to build apartments there because the land is so valuable. But zoning only allows single-family homes there, the result of a 1996 plan from Montgomery County that recommends preserving the area's "single-family character," due to neighbor concerns about traffic.
As a result, whoever tries to build at Forest Glen will have to get a rezoning, which neighbors will certainly fight. It's true that there's a lot of traffic in Forest Glen: the Beltway is one block away, while the adjacent intersection of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road is one of Montgomery County's busiest. While traffic is always likely to be bad in Forest Glen, though by taking advantage of the Metro station, there are ways to bring more people and amenities to the area without putting more cars on the road.
Make it easier to reach Metro without a car
Today, two-thirds of the drivers who park at Forest Glen come from less than two miles away, suggesting that people don't feel safe walking or biking in the area. There's a pedestrian bridge over the Beltway that connects to the Montgomery Hills shopping area, a half-mile away, but residents have also fought for a tunnel under Georgia Avenue so they won't have to cross the 6-lane state highway.
Montgomery County transportation officials have explored building a tunnel beneath Georgia, which is estimated to cost up to $17.9 million. But county planners note that a tunnel may not be worth it because there aren't a lot of people to use it.
And crossing Georgia Avenue is only a small part of the experience of walking in the larger neighborhood. Today, the sidewalks on Forest Glen Road and Georgia Avenue are narrow and right next to the road, which is both unpleasant and unsafe. WMATA has asked developers applying to build at Forest Glen to propose ways to improve pedestrian access as well, and they may want to start with wider sidewalks with a landscaping buffer to make walking much more attractive. Investing in bike lanes would also be a good idea.
Provide things to walk to
Another way to reduce car trips is by providing daily needs within a short walk or bike ride. The Montgomery Hills shopping district, with a grocery store, pharmacy, and other useful shops, is a half-mile away from the Metro. But it may also make sense to put some small-scale retail at the station itself, like a dry cleaner, coffeeshop or convenience store, which will mainly draw people from the Metro station and areas within walking or biking distance. Some people will drive, but not as many as there would be with larger stores.
Putting shops at the Metro might also encourage workers at Holy Cross to take transit instead of driving, since they'll be able to run errands on their way to and from work. Encouraging this crowd to take transit is important, since hospitals are busy all day and all week, meaning they generate a lot of demand for transit, making it practical to run more buses and trains, which is great for everyone else.
Provide less parking
Whatever gets built at the Metro will have to include parking, not only for commuters, but for residents as well. While Montgomery County's new zoning code requires fewer parking spaces, each apartment still has to have at least one parking space. Even small shops will have to have their own parking. The more parking there is, the more likely residents are to bring cars, which of course means more traffic.
Thus, the key is to give future residents and customers incentives to not drive. The new zoning code does allow developers to "unbundle" parking spaces from apartments and sell or rent them separately. Those who choose not to bring cars will then get to pay less for housing. The code also requires carsharing spaces in new apartment buildings, so residents will still have access to a car even if they don't have their own. If Montgomery County ever decides to expand Capital Bikeshare, the developer could pay for a station here.
And the developer could offer some sort of discount or incentive for Holy Cross employees to live there, allowing hospital workers to live a short walk from their jobs.
No matter the approach, there are a lot of ways to build in Forest Glen without creating additional traffic. A creative approach can do wonders for the area's profile and elevate the quality of life for residents there.
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.
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.
Better transit could one day come to Virginia's Route 1 between the Beltway and Woodbridge. A transit study looked at transit options and narrowed down the choices to curbside or median Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), light rail, or a hybrid of BRT and extending Metro's Yellow Line.
The study presents a wealth of data and a thorough analysis, but raises key questions, including what speed limit is appropriate for a more transit-oriented Route 1. A new high-capacity transit system would transform the corridor, but there would be challenges to ensure a safe pedestrian and bicycle environment and preserve affordable housing.
The study considered 8 transit options before eliminating streetcar, enhanced bus, express bus, local bus, a Yellow Line extension all the way to Woodbridge, and monorail. The 4 alternatives that remain for further study are:
- Curbside Bus Rapid Transit (including a stretch in mixed traffic from Pohick Road to Woodbridge)
- Median Bus Rapid Transit (with a shorter mixed traffic section in Prince William County to Woodbridge)
- Median Light Rail Transit
- A Metrorail-BRT Hybrid, extending the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley and then switching to BRT.
The study looked at 3 land use scenarios:
- A baseline forecast for 2035 from the regional Council of Governments model;
- 25% more growth based on what a BRT or LRT line would likely generate;
- 169% more which is necessary to support Metrorail service.
For the road itself, the study rejects widening Route 1 to four lanes in each direction, as well as converting existing lanes to transit-only. That leaves a recommendation for three general lanes in each direction as well as transit in a separate right-of-way.
What transit do you think should go in this corridor? In part 2, we'll talk about how to create a sense of place and what this plan means for housing affordability.
Drivers and pedestrians alike often have to face unacceptable levels of delay when they drive or walk around roads in the state of Maryland and Montgomery County. Engineers recently announced new approaches that they believe will make these problems disappear.
The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is developing a new Pedestrian Level of Service standard to ensure that pedestrian delays are not unacceptably long, while the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will make traffic changes that ensure smoother flow of traffic.
On state highways, pedestrians sometimes have to cross three legs of an intersection, as SHA often does not stripe a crosswalk on one leg. Under federal guidelines, walk signals must last long enough for those on foot to traverse the crosswalk. But the crosswalks need not go straight to a pedestrian's destination, so the state and localities often remove crosswalks so avoid having a long walk signal.
The new Pedestrian Level of Service (PLOS) will address this. It will work similarly to the motorist Level of Service, which grades intersections based on how long people have to wait to cross. Vehicular LOS defines an intersection as "failing" if, on average, a driver has to wait 90 seconds or more to get through the intersection.
Since a pedestrian trying to go straight across the leg where the crosswalk doesn't exist has to cross the other 3 legs of the intersection (waiting for the signal each time), they often encounter more than 90 seconds of delay, so SHA will instead define a failing intersection as one where a pedestiran has to wait 3600 seconds or more to cross.
A statewide analysis of intersections under these new standards to determine which intersections need to be upgraded didn't find any problem spots. Deputy Administrator Ida Driven is pleased. "Clearly, this study shows that Maryland is doing well with pedestrian safety. Over the past 15 years, SHA has spent tens of dollars to make sure that active transportation users can get around safely."
A representative of AAA, Hugh Jestkarr, lauded the change. "Clearly the study shows that pedestrians benefit from roadway improvement projects. It shows that drivers can have fast roads and pedestrians can still get what the government defines as adequate."
The State Highway Administration hopes the new standards and the study will help determine where to spend money. As has been done in many areas, if the PLOS does show a poor grade, state officials will simply remove the crosswalk to ensure that the intersection continues to meet the standards.
Meanwhile, MCDOT has been conducting a detailed analysis of places where the vehicular Level of Service is too low. The test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection, but the county has faced increasing difficulties in meeting this test.
County rules, in fact, block construction where roads have a "Level of Service" that is too low. This test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection.
A particular problem is left turns, which slow down the performance of each intersection. Therefore, beginning next year, left turns will be banned throughout the county.
"When turning cars aren't in the way," explained chief traffic engineer Ample Wandering, "drivers get through intersections faster." Current LOS defines an intersection with an excessively backed-up left turn lane as "failing," but the same intersection passes when left turns are forbidden.
LOS rules prescribe how fast cars must go through intersections, noted deputy transportation director Edsel Gasoline, but they say nothing about how quickly drivers get where they are actually going. "Our drivers will finally be free from the curse of failing intersections," boasted Gasoline.
If any intersections still have Level of Service F without left turns, the county will ban right turns there too.
AAA's Jestkarr cheered the plan. "Drivers," she said, "will at last have the fast-moving roads we crave."
Recently, we posted contributor stories about times they'd walked in places where most people don't. A reader who is in middle school, Leo from Maryland, posted this comment which we think is worth highlighting:
I am an urbanist, stuck in suburbia. (I'm in Middle School, so "stuck" isn't exactly the right word.) Anywayyy...... I am an urbanist, right? And I also like walking, biking, public transit, etc.
So, I bike or walk to school almost every day. I live about a mile from my school. People are SHOCKED when they hear I bike or walk to school. The school doesn't bother salting the ped. walkways to school, so they are covered in ice the day school reopens after a snowstorm.
I was walking to school, and I fell and slipped twice due the the ice. My HW was soaked, b/c my backpack fell in snow. 1st period teacher wouldn't take my HW even though I did the work correctly, and you could still see my answers. I tried to explain the situation, he wouldn't listen.
His solution to my problem? Tomorrow, have your parents drive you to school. Lol, my mom's left for work already when I leave, and my dad works till midnight, and is asleep when I leave.Perhaps Leo and his school could work with an organization like the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which focuses on providing students and parents with options to get to school on foot or by bike. (Update: Locally, there's also the Safe Routes to School Regional Network.) It may be too late for Leo's homework assignment, but it's never too late to improve walking conditions in all of our communities.
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.
Even the most hardened pedestrians can find themselves in areas where driving is the default way to get around. In those places, going for a walk can be a provocative act, met with stares and questions.
Still, some of us make the conscious choice to walk or bike somewhere even in places where it's not obvious to others. Our contributors share some of their funnier stories of when people didn't understand why they just didn't drive.
David Versel: I typically walk up to the Metrobus stop for my morning commute, which is about 0.5 miles from my house in Springfield. I am ALWAYS the only adult pedestrian about, but there are usually middle school kids walking to or waiting at their school bus stop. I have gotten scared looks from these kids many times who probably think I'm a pedophile cruising school bus stops.
It's just another casualty of car culture that suburban kids automatically assume that adults should always be in cars, and that those who aren't are probably sex offenders.
Dan Reed: In high school, I usually walked to my friend's house for a study group. One day we had an argument, as 15-year-olds often do, and I stormed out. As I unlocked the front door, her mother ran into the room in a frenzy.
"Where are you going!?" she asked, and I said I was walking home. (This is how far apart our houses were.)
"Don't worry, I'll give you a ride," she said. I said it was okay, but she relented, and went back to get her keys. She came back and said, "Alright, let's go." I felt terrible asking her to go through the trouble, so I said "Um, I changed my mind and I'll stay here," and returned to sulk in the basement with my friends.
David Alpert: When I was in Los Angeles once, I was staying with family friends in Brentwood and was at an event on Wilshire Boulevard just south of Brentwood. When I was ready to leave, I realized that the cross street we were right near was also one of the main cross streets near their house, so I walked the approximately 1.2 miles to their house instead of calling for a ride.
When I got there they were flabbergasted that I had walked.
Matt Johnson: I can do ya one better. And this conversation did happen. Word for word.
The first time I was ever in LA, Ryan and I stayed at a hotel one block from the Vermont/Santa Monica subway station. We got in fairly late, and we really just wanted to go to bed, but we hadn't eaten. On the one block walk from the station, we'd seen a few storefronts, but hadn't really been paying a lot of attention.
So after we got situated in our room, we went down to the front desk, and I asked the receptionist...
Me: "Can you tell me are there any restaurants nearby?"
Receptionist: "Oh, sure. Let me call you a cab."
Me: "Oh, no, no. We don't want to go anyplace far away. Just something close by."
Receptionist: "Yeah, there are lots of places. Let me call you a cab." [picks up phone]
Me: "No, please don't. We really just want someplace close. Is there any place within walking distance?"
[She looks puzzled]
Receptionist: "It's really no trouble for me to call you a cab."
Me: "We don't want a cab. We just want to know if there are any restaurants nearby. Are there any restaurants within a block or two?"
Receptionist: "Yeah. There are a few places at the corner of Vermont and Santa Monica. Are you sure you don't want me to call you a cab?"
Me: "Vermont and Santa Monica is a block away, right?"
Me: "We'll just walk. Thanks for your help."
Receptionist: "Really, it's no trouble to call a cab. Are you sure you don't want one?"
The ironic thing is that LA (the LA Basin at least) is actually very walkable. The problem is that Angelenos don't seem to know that.
I've ridden the 4/704 all the way from Union Station to the Santa Monica pier. And the density/urban form never drops below what you'd find in the Woodley Park commercial strip. That's about the same distance as going from Metro Center to Rockville. There are a few places were the walkability isn't great (Century City), but for the most part, the sidewalks are wide and complete, the street is buffered with parking, and buildings are built right to the street.
Dan Malouff: My example isn't quite so bad. It's a 0.4 mile walk from Fairfax City Hall to Fairfax Main Street. Who wants to guess how many people other than me walked to lunch, back when I worked in Fairfax?
Canaan Merchant: I used to walk to Fairfax City from GMU. It really freaked my roommates out. Thinking back, I have lots of examples of me having to explain that sometimes I preferred to walk for 20 minutes than drive 10 to get to places in Fairfax.
David Edmondson: In fairness to the drive-everywhere crowd, I definitely took the Metro from Mt. Vernon Square to Chinatown a number of times when I first moved to DC before I realized how close it actually is.
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.
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