Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Road Safety

Roads


When governments make road data public, anyone can help make roads safer

This map shows where people have been caught speeding in Montgomery County this summer. If DC and other local jurisdictions released more open data, we could make maps like this for places all over the region.


Speeding citations in Montgomery County and how much each was exceeding the legal limit. Map by the author.

Montgomery County now publishes detailed traffic violation data, which goes online daily here. This data allows anyone to see where and when the police are issuing citations, and to whom.

The map covers the period from June 1st to August 16th in Montgomery County. The bigger the bubble, the more the driver was over the speed limit and the bigger their violation.

What is open data and why is it useful?

The data I used to make the map is a good example of local jurisdictions providing open transportation-related data. Open data is data that is readily accessible and manipulable by anyone who wishes to use it in whatever way they wish to do so.

Making the large amounts of government data more available allows people to more easily participate in government. In terms of transportation, open data can allow residents to identify traffic patterns and safety problems.

We're making progress with open data, but there's a ways to go

Our region has made good strides in recent years to make government data more accessible to the public, including some transportation data. This has led to people developing innovations like CaBi Tracker.

After months of internal meeting, DDOT recently kicked off the public portion of its Vision Zero initiative. This effort includes an innovative crowdsourcing effort to map dangerous streets and intersections. (If you haven't contributed, you can do so here.)

DDOT has gone a step further and posted this data in an open data format online. This allows anyone to download and manipulate the data to understand what people have said about transportation safety throughout the District.


DDOT made its Vision Zero Map data open. Image from DC Open Data.

On the other hand, apart from Montgomery County, no jurisdiction posts violation data or sidewalk closure data and few post crash data.

In DC specifically, the crash data that's available isn't very useful when it comes to analysis. For example, this crash statistics report that came out in March 2014 covers crashes that happened between 2010 and 2012, meaning it took some crashes four years to show up in a public form. The District will release the actual data used to write the report, but it's not easy or obvious how to get it. To improve things, DC's Vision Zero effort includes making transportation data more open, although it is not yet clear when or how this will happen.

At present, though, the District's open data on 311 calls (which is excellent) means that it's easier to find out the location of roadkill than it is to find where people have been hit (see map below).


DC currently provides better data on roadkill than crashes with humans. Image from DC Open Data.

Improving this situation would cost little but do a lot to improve services and accountability for our region's residents.

Building on my map, for example, more data from Montgomery could enable someone to compare citations to speed gun surveys and collision data, to see if speeding enforcement is matching the location of speeding and crashes. More data could also be used to help identify places where design changes or automated enforcement could be considered to alleviate the number of police officers required to enforce speeding laws.

With ever more jurisdictions making serious commitments to improving street safety, now is the time to make more transportation data open to the public.

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Roads


Crowdsource safety problems on DC streets with this interactive Vision Zero map

Do you know of a safety problem on a DC street? If so, tell DDOT about it using the interactive Vision Zero map. It allows residents to click a location and type in notes to describe problems.


Image from DDOT.

This new map is part of DC's Vision Zero Initiative, which aims to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries in the transportation system.

The map lets you add notations for a wide variety of safety problems. There are separate categories for driver, pedestrian, and cyclist problems, with several options available for each. You can also scroll around DC to see what your neighbors have submitted.

It's a neat tool. I've already submitted a handful of problems.

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Roads


Residents push for stop signs, not a wider road, at one Petworth intersection

In April, two cars collided at Kansas Avenue and Quincy Street NW. Crashes at the intersection aren't uncommon, and residents and ANC commissioners are asking for a four-way stop.


Kansas and Quincy NE. There are stop signs for people driving east and west on Quincy, but there are none on Kansas. Base image from Google Maps.

The two-block section of Kansas that meets Quincy is a wide, tree-lined street. Aside from at Quincy, there's an all-way stop at each street Kansas meets between Georgia Avenue and 13th Street. Quincy, by contrast, is a narrow street that connects the 14th Street corridor to the Georgia Avenue/Petworth Metro station.

There are stop signs for drivers traveling east and west along Quincy, but Kansas is only marked by two crosswalks and a couple of battered "Yield to Pedestrian" signs.

Poor visibility and speeds make crossing difficult

Kansas Avenue intersects Quincy at an angle, and people park cars along both streets, and traffic on Kansas moves quickly in both directions. Southbound drivers take advantage of the wide straightaway to drive downhill quickly and pass through a convoluted series of nine intersections. Northbound traffic cruises through the long green light on 13th Avenue and keep going fast as they make a wide right turn onto Quincy.

To cross, drivers must inch their way into the intersection so they can see enough to account for all these factors. It is no surprise local drivers avoid using this intersection.

People looking to walk along Quincy to get to the Metro, however, have no choice but to cross Kansas. Despite pedestrian crossing signs, drivers often don't yield to people waiting to cross, and even when the road looks empty, that can change quickly when drivers turn off 13th and fly up the hill.

The sister intersection, Quincy and 13th, couldn't feel more different. People driving cars obey the all-way stop signs and cross Quincy quickly and easily, and people on foot step out towards the Metro or 14th Street shops feeling safe.

Neighbors want a four-way stop sign

Following the most recent crash, the neighborhood renewed its push for a stop sign. Residents started requesting all-way stop signs more than ten years ago, according to ANC 4C06 Commissioner Vann-Di Galloway.

In an email exchange on April 1, 2015, a neighbor who observed the immediate aftermath of the collision wrote,

I just don't believe that this intersection is somehow the only one in 4C06 that manages to elude that designation, but that's what they keep telling us. For years now we've been pushing them to make it a 4-way stop, like EVERY other intersection is, but they keep trying other traffic tools, and frankly none of them do enough. That intersection won't be safe for drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians until it is a 4-way stop.

In a May 21st meeting with city officials, neighbors reiterated their longstanding concerns regarding pedestrian and vehicle right-of-way conflicts. Residents at that meeting also expressed serious doubts that DDOT's proposed solutions, which stop short of an all-way stop, would address the central safety concerns.

All-way stops have not ruined traffic patterns along Kansas Avenue or 13th Street. Why would this intersection be any different? Either the street is busy, so drivers and pedestrians attempting to cross need traffic controls, or the street is not that busy, so stop signs wouldn't cause a problem.

DDOT doesn't want to add a stop sign, but that could be for lack of information

In recent years, DDOT conducted studies where Quincy Street intersects both 13th Street and Kansas Ave NW. The agency helped create a four-way stop at Quincy and 13th, which is just 50 feet away from Quincy and Kansas and used to have similar troubles.

Gregg Steverson, from DDOT's Transportation Operations Administration, stated in a March, 2014 email to local residents that "based on standard volume and roadway classification" neither of the Quincy Street NW intersections met the warrants for all-way stop.

Additionally, Mr. Steverson expressed DDOT's concern that if an all-way stop went in, drivers may miss or ignore the stop sign in their rush toward visible green lights at the intersections at at Kansas, 13th, Spring, and Quebec.

DDOT never followed through on a commitment to examine the effect of the new 13th and Quincy stop signs. In meetings, residents expressed confusion as to why DDOT considers hypothetical non-compliance by some drivers as a criteria that weighs against traffic control devices.

Residents also noted that DDOT's studies of Kansas and Quincy have looked at the intersection between 10 am and 2 pm, a time window that might not accurately represent just how many people cross Kansas on foot. Finally, vehicle and pedestrian traffic volumes may be lower—particularly on Quincy—precisely because this intersection is so difficult to cross.

Residents don't want wider roads

One solution Mr. Steverson proposed was to remove parking spaces from along Kansas Avenue to improve lines of sight. Commissioner Galloway has responded to DDOT that this proposal would further tighten parking in a growing neighborhood and also widen the roads, which could increase the untenable speed of traffic.

Neighbors have pledged to continue their push for an all-way stop as long as necessary. They are hopeful that Brandon Todd's office will help make progress on this neighborhood priority before more people get hurt or property ends up damaged.

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Pedestrians


A woman died crossing a street in Glover Park last night

The intersection of Wisconsin Avenue, Calvert Street, and 37th Street NW is dangerous. On Thursday evening a truck driver struck and killed a woman there.


The scene a few hours after the crash. Photo by the author.

There isn't much information yet on exactly what happened or why, and is too soon to jump to conclusions. Some rumors on the Glover Park listserv say that the driver was turning left and did not obey a red arrow. This has not been officially confirmed.


The intersection, looking south from Wisconsin Avenue. Image from Google Maps.

This isn't the only crash involving a pedestrian on Wisconsin Avenue this week or the only fatality on the roads in the region just on Thursday. A car driver injured a pedestrian on Wednesday at Wisconsin and Veazey Street, in Tenleytown. A Montgomery County school bus driver struck and killed a woman crossing a street on Thursday morning near Shady Grove Metro.

Wisconsin Avenue could have been different

Not long ago Wisconsin Avenue went on a diet. DDOT put in a median, added a turn lane, and slowed the traffic. In some parts of the avenue it sometimes took an extra two minutes to drive up the road.

Residents complained. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans complained. Councilmember Mary Cheh, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners at the time, and DDOT bowed to the popular outcry and reversed the change.

In the evening, Glover Park residents talked in person and on email lists about what happened. Some people quickly jumped to assumptions about what the pedestrian may have done. Some assumed she may have not been in the crosswalk and others that she may have walked against the light.

But did the street design contribute? Could the truck driver see adequately? Did he turn left or right on red? Was he driving too fast?

We don't yet know the details of what happened, so we can't say whether the road diet would have helped avoid this tragedy or not. But we do know that a move to make Wisconsin Avenue safer in the past was overturned because drivers wanted to be able to move faster through this neighborhood.

Even if the driver violated another law, like going through a red light, the point of designing streets for safety is to ensure there is more margin for error. Drivers (and pedestrians) won't obey every law at every moment. One violation on either side shouldn't lead to death, especially since it's always the pedestrian's.

In aviation, there's a maxim that any fatal plane crash is always the result of not one, often not two, but multiple things going wrong—a tired pilot AND bad weather AND an otherwise-minor equipment glitch AND a communications mix-up. Without any one of those failures, everything is fine. That's a system where safety is a higher priority. On the roads, a single mistake by a driver can kill an innocent pedestrian.

Correction: The initial version of this article quoted a WUSA9 story which interviewed a man who said the intersection was dangerous. However, this interview actually was about the other crash, at Wisconsin and Veazey. We have removed the quotation.

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Pedestrians


Media reports downplay the dangers of driving while sensationalizing everything else

The media pays a lot more attention to bicycle and pedestrian fatalities than it does car deaths. If reporters went beyond sensationalism to give commuters more accurate, thorough information, people could make smarter choices about how to get around.


Photo by Dystopos on Flickr.

One transportation myth the media often fuels is that driving is unusually safe. Car crashes are actually the nation's leading cause of death for school-age children, and they're much more likely than, say, attacks by strangers. Yet while some parents get flack for letting their children walk home unsupervised, thousands drive their children around every day.

Another myth is that bicycling is unusually dangerous. 2014 was great for bicycling, but tough for bicycling in the media. One widely-reported story, based on information from the Governors Highway Safety Association, highlighted an increase in bicycle fatalities. Reporters picked up the story and editors wrote alarming headlines.

The truth is that increased bicycling leads to safer streets with lower fatality rates. This happens so reliably that researchers call it "the safety in numbers effect." While some did mention that ridership is increasing faster than fatalities, meaning that bicycling is getting safer, nearly every report ran with an alarming headline.

Sometimes, people flat-out omit the facts

Another story, based on a report by researchers at Washington State University, concerned an increased percentage of bicycle-related head injuries in cities with bikeshare (public bike rental) systems. Once again, the media took the bait. This story didn't even pass the laugh test for cycling advocates, as it's well known that bikeshare increases cycling and, again, more cycling means safer cycling.

Actually, the Washington State University study was downright misleading: The authors failed to mention that cities with bikeshare saw reductions in all types of injuries, leaving readers to do the math and to tease out the good news buried in the data. The authors—one of whom, F.P. Rivara, was also a source of the myth that cycle helmets are "85 percent effective," a debunked claim that no longer appears on US government web sites—instead focused on misleading injury percentages, coming to an alarming conclusion.

While it is hard to find fault with reporters for being misled, I do fault them for jumping on yet another bicycle danger story. As of June 2014, the DC and New York City bikeshare systems had recorded 15.75 million trips with no fatalities. This figure flies in the face of the mayhem some predicted would come along with increases in people riding bikes.

Nationally, walking and driving are far more dangerous than transit

Of the 29,000 non-motorcyclist traffic and transit fatalities in the US in 2012, about 23,000 (80%) were people riding in or driving cars, 4,700 (16%) were people walking, 700 (2%) were people cycling, and 200 (1%) were people riding transit.

The only corresponding "mode share" percentages we have come from commuting: In 2012, about 90% of people in the US got to work by car or van, 3% walked, 1% cycled and 5% took transit. We unfortunately don't have concrete numbers for how people get around outside of work, but the numbers we do have suggest that walking is very dangerous (studies show that suburbs are dangerous places to walk), followed by bicycling, driving and transit.

Personally, I see a disconnect between media coverage and the numbers, with walking and driving under-emphasized. While these numbers are not representative of transit-friendly Alexandria, we are not immune to sketchy reporting. We simply do not have straight-forward information and the information that we do have lacks context.

A good first step would be for reporters to provide monthly tallies of transportation fatalities and locations (the City Paper is working on just a list, with the help of the people behind Struck in DC) instead of gravitating toward stories featuring danger, excitement, and minimal alarm to car-driving readers.

Editors are missing an opportunity by not giving us the information we need to make wise transportation choices based on how we personally balance risk and reward.

On Saturday, a version of this post ran as Jonathan's monthly column for Alexandria News.

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Politics


David Catania's platform supports Metro, streetcars, bus lanes, bike lanes, transit-oriented development, and more

Mayoral candidate David Catania released a 66-page platform today, chock full of positions on issues from education to jobs to seniors. It includes strong statements on transportation and the environment.


Catania at a DC Council hearing.

Here are a few key quotes from the platform:

Metro: To ensure that Metro Momentum becomes a reality, the entire region will need to prioritize the plan's funding. As Mayor, David will ensure that the District leads the effort with our regional and federal partners to create a dedicated funding mechanism for this vital investment in our collective future.

Streetcars: David will seek to build both the East-West and the North-South [DC streetcar] lines, believing that the system must be sufficiently expansive in order to serve as anything more than a novelty or tourist attraction.

Bus lanes: David will work with community members, bus riders, and transit agencies to increase capacity and implement priority bus lanes on major arterial roadways and key transit corridors.

Bicycle infrastructure: David will expand bicycle infrastructure to all areas of the city, particularly in communities east of the Anacostia River that have yet to see such investments. This expansion can take place in a way that does not displace other forms of transportation. Many District streets are particularly well positioned for installation of protected bike lanes while maintaining sufficient car parking and driving capacity. David will also support the continued expansion of Capital Bikeshare.

Traffic cameras: There is little doubt that speed and red light cameras have contributed to the overall safety of our streets. However, in some cases the deployment of these cameras raises questions about whether the intent is purely to improve street safety or if the real motivation is to raise additional revenue through ticketing and citations. As Mayor, David will demand that the proper analysis is conducted to ensure that these devices are being used to target locations with street and pedestrian safety concerns—not simply as a means to raise revenue!

Vision Zero: David will pursue a street safety agenda in line with the Vision Zero Initiative. ... Vision Zero calls for the total elimination of traffic deaths—pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle passenger—through innovative street design, enhanced traffic management technologies, and education campaigns.

Transit-oriented development: The District's density is one of its greatest economic competitive advantages. Recent studies have found a clear connection between the higher concentration of residents and greater economic output. As Mayor, David will harness this economic potential in a way that creates healthy and livable urban communities, by focusing development around transportation hubs including Metro stations, bus lines, protected bike lane infrastructure, and Streetcar corridors.


Speck. Image from the Catania platform.
A lot of this reads like something a smart growth and sustainable transportation advocate might write. Maybe that's not such a surprise, as the section starts out with a big picture of Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City and a local smart growth champion. Jeff and Alice Speck are strong supporters of Catania, and probably suggested a few ideas.

There is a lot about the environment as well in that section, such as LEED buildings, tree canopy, and water quality, as well as on many more topics in the full document. What do you agree or disagree with in the platform?

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