D.C.'s Official Pedestrian Advocacy Body

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Phil Mendelson: What kind of traffic safety benchmarks should DC have?


Judiciary Committee chair and veteran Councilmember Phil Mendelson has asked a critical question.  Should the District set more explicit benchmarks to track progress toward greater traffic safety?  

The Pedestrian Advisory Council says YES!  Help us figure out what they should be.

DC has taken some good steps in the right direction, and made strides in engineering and planning.  However, we have set few benchmarks to track the effectiveness of our progress toward increasing traffic safety.  Other cities are taking bolder approaches.  Chicago just set a goal of reducing traffic related fatalities to zero -- yes that's ZERO in ten years.  New York City is working to cut its traffic fatalities in half by 2030.  DC has declared no such goal.  A key take away from CM Mendelson's hearing on pedestrian and bicycle safety last week was that perhaps it's time to set some explicit targets and more clearly define success looks like. 

The Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC) will be working with other groups to propose a set of safety benchmarks.  Benchmarks could be about reducing fatalities and crashes, increasing officer training, increasing citations; adding sidewalks/leading pedestrian crossing signals/bike lanes/bus bulbs, creating safety zones around all schools, etc, etc.  What kind of benchmarks and time frames should the District adopt in order to make the city measurably safer for everyone? The PAC hopes to develop an initial proposal in the next month.  Weigh in with your ideas by leaving a comment here or emailing dcpedcouncil@gmail.org. You can also join the conversation in person at our next mtg at 6:00pm Monday, June 11th, One JudiciarySquare, 441 4th Street NW, 11th Floor.  Closest Metro is Judiciary Square (red line) or 10 minute walk from Union Station. 

Highlights from the May 30th Safety Hearing
Four Pedestrian Advisory Council members (PAC) - Carolyn Ward, George Tobias, Marlene Berlin and yours truly - along with about a dozen other public witnesses testified at the May 30th hearing.  Many talked about the lack of enforcement of safety laws such as yielding to pedestrians and cell phone use while driving.  Some raised concern over pedestrian cell phone use while crossing intersections.  One bicyclist talked about his frustration at a slow legal process after being sideswiped by a motorist, caught on tape. (An arrest warrant for that motorist has been issued since.)  Another related how she was wrongfully told by an officer she had to ride and stay in a bike lane after that officer dismissed the motorist who endangered her on the road.

Several witnesses discussed the need for prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle safety, the PAC concurs.  While the pro-pedestrian rhetoric is ample, it is not reflected in the budgeting and goals of the city.  The PAC has asked to see more funding for officer training and more consistent enforcement.  MPD's Commander Crane and Lieutenant Bruel (two of the DC's most dedicated public servants and good partners of the PAC) stated at the May PAC meeting that 942 (!!!) pedestrian crashes were reported last year.  The city's Pedestrian Plan feels woefully under-ambitious for a city like DC.  Yet we are years away from fully implementing it and there is no indication that phase II will be designed any time soon.  

The Metropolitan Police Departmet's Assistant Chief Lamar Greene and Commander James Crane testified as well, discussing MPD's increased emphasis on officer training, the street smarts campaign, and higher ticketing for noncompliance with the law.  The number of citations for failure to yield to a pedestrian has gone up 87% in recent years; citations for blocking bike lanes has quadrupled.  MPD is very active during the regional Street Smarts campaign which takes place twice a year.  And the department has been tweeting more frequently including safety messages and traffic crashes.  Greene and Crane discussed options such as bringing crash victims to talk to front line officers to increase officer awareness and sensitivity, and also involving pedestrian and bicycle advocates in conversation with precinct captains. 

MPD is also of course expanding traffic cameras adding technologies that will enforce yielding to pedestrians, illegals turns, and blocking the box (in addition to red light running and speeding).  In fact, the PAC has unanimously endorses the photo enforcement program and lauds MPD and the Mayor for moving a critical safety program forward even in the face of anger by some motorists.  Several ANC and neighborhood groups have also passed resolutions supporting the initiative.

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Written by Neha Bhatt

Speed kills. Traffic cameras save lives.



More and better traffic enforcement is key to reducing pedestrian crashes along our main streets.Last week, Mayor Gray announced that he is giving the green light to a new set of traffic cameras which MPD has been trying to buy for over a year.  This is great news for pedestrians.

Read the full post here...

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Written by Marlene Berlin

"Walk & Talk" West Wing Initiative


"Walking is where I get my best ideas."  - President Bartlet

U.S. President Bartlet and his senior team launch new initiative to reduce heart disease, diabetes and stroke.  (Though, Segway riders may not love it...)



Let's Prioritize Sidewalks

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DC Should Prioritize Sidewalk Maintenance as well as Roads 

Photo by parkview dc, flickr

The lack of priority for sidewalks is exemplified by the current and much publicized pothole attack with no corresponding sidewalk equivalent.  We all know that dangerous sidewalk conditions exist and people are getting injured as a result, which opens the city to the threat of lawsuits.   Until there is money in the budget for regular assessment of sidewalks, like roads, we will not have the kind of maintenance and network needed to meet these three objectives mentioned in this budget.

Testimony by Marlene Berlin, D.C. Senior Advisory Coalition
DC City Council Committee on the Environment, Transportation and Public Works
Budget Hearing on the Department of Transportation, April 25, 2011

Madam Chair and Council Members: 

I am presenting  testimony for the Senior Advisory Coalitionwhich is a group representing 26 organizations providing services to seniors and advocating for their needs.  The Coalition is particularly concerned with the  transportation budget as it pertains to sidewalks, which are crucial to the mobility of seniors , whether they drive, use mass transit or walk to visit friends, do shopping , engage in community activities,  attend  houses of worship, and deal with their medical needs.   And not only seniors benefit from a well-maintained sidewalks all residents do.
 
There are three objectives  in the capital budget for transportation:
  • “Ensure the  District’s current transportation infrastructure and streetscapes are in acceptable condition 
  • Increase non-vehicular transportation modes to meet the mobility and economic development needs of the District 
  • Improve the safety of pedestrian, cyclists, and vehicles throughout the District.”


All three objectives require a major focus  on sidewalk infrastructure.  In order to maintain at least “good” sidewalk conditions there needs to be a  systematic  process in place in assessing the conditions of sidewalks.  Then there needs to be a  transparent  and  effective process to build and maintain a sidewalk network that connects  residents to their neighborhoods other forms of transportation.  This is necessary for all of us to be able to age in place.   And let us not ignore the positive impact of sidewalk infrastructure on economic development.  Sidewalks are basic  to the sustainable city the Mayor wants.  We do not have a system to enhance and maintain our sidewalk infrastructure  at this time.  And such a system  will need budget support .
This lack of assessment is evident by DDOT’s response  to  the question by this committee about frequency  of sidewalk assessments: “Frequency varies based on service requests.”    In the same document DDOT states that federal roads are assessed every year, local roads every 2 years.   This lack of priority for sidewalks is exemplified by the current and much publicized pothole  attack with no corresponding sidewalk equivalent.  We all know that dangerous sidewalk conditions exist and people are getting injured as a result, which opens the city to the threat of lawsuits.   Until there is money in the budget for regular assessment of sidewalks, like roads, we will not have the kind of maintenance and network needed to meet these three objectives mentioned in this budget.
We have 1320 miles of sidewalks, and in FY11 there was $1.5 million spent on resurfacing/improving sidewalks with 3.5 miles of sidewalks completed/improved, .265% of sidewalk miles.  Now looking at the 436 miles of  federal roads, $9.5 million was spent in FY11 on repaving/improving  25cl miles, which is  5.7% of road miles.  DC has 598 miles of local roads, and 42 cl miles  were repaved/improved with $5.4 million,  7% of road miles.   In essence, sidewalks compared to roads get only 10% of the funding that roads get for repair and improvements, and then get only 5% of mileage repairs and improvements compared to roads.
In addition to maintenance,  there are still significant sidewalk gaps.   There are no performance measures in the budget on filling sidewalk gaps.  In Ward 3, significant sidewalk gaps hinder connecting to Connecticut Avenue,  and  getting to the Tenleytown Metro Station
In this year’s budget there is $1.15 million specifically designated for sidewalks.  To put this in perspective, the Downtown Business Improvement District has asked DDOT to devote $3 million for sidewalk improvements, within their boundaries.  I realize that there may be pockets of other moneys in this budget that support sidewalks, and I would like to see that teased out, but $1.5 million is a paltry sum given the miles of sidewalk we need to maintain.  I suggest DDOT look to San Francisco in how it has mapped its sidewalk infrastructure, which is on its website,  and its plans for improvement.  DDOT needs to support such a systematic approach to building and maintaining its sidewalk infrastructure.
Given these budget  objectives, we do not have the program or funding in place to improve and maintain our sidewalk infrastructure.   I would recommend funding the following:
  • Two year regular assessments of sidewalks and a transparent plan accessible on line to assess  DDOT’s progress,
  • A plan for ramping up to a goal of at least 5% of the miles of sidewalks improved and maintained a year,
  • Systematic  process of closing of sidewalk gaps with clear, transparent priorities,  
  • Sidewalk “pot hole” attack annually

Also, I would like to see this key performance indicator included in the budget :  The number of sidewalk “pot holes” filled within 48 hours will be 96%, just like roads.  
Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

Traffic Safety Absent in MPD Budget



This post is from testimony submitted for the Performance Hearing on the Metropolitan Police Department on March 30, 2012, DC Council Committee on the Judiciary (chaired by CM Mendelson) on behalf of Iona Senior Services.

The lack of a priority given to traffic enforcement clearly shows up in the current budget narrative.   Traffic safety is only mentioned once and traffic enforcement not at all.  Under Patrol Services there is only mention of crime prevention and fighting, but no mention of traffic crash prevention and enforcement.  There have been bicycle and pedestrian hearings that detail the abysmal record of police investigation of pedestrian and bicycle crashes, but there is no mention of traffic crash investigations.  

As the pedestrian advocate at Iona Senior Services, I come before you to make the case that MPD budget resources need to be increased  for traffic enforcement  to make our streets safer for pedestrians, as well as cyclists and motorists.  I commend Chief Lanier and MPD for its investment in expanding photo enforcement, but it will take more than this to make an impact in reducing the number of pedestrian crashes which have been slowly climbing over the last few years.  It will take resources for training officers and increase in the number of PSA officers assigned to full time traffic enforcement duty, and a much more comprehensive public education campaign than what  is presently conducted by DDOT and MPD.   Given that traffic enforcement is an important component to fighting crime, as well,  it deserves to be a higher priority in our police department by showing increased resources devoted to it.

Since the cost of pedestrian injuries are over $52,000 and deaths over a million dollars , should not the investigations of such matters deserve higher priority?  Again there is no mention of traffic safety and enforcement within Homeland Security where the most of the traffic safety and enforcement reside.   Is there any analysis and strategic  planning for improving traffic safety within the Strategic Services Bureau?  Again there is no mention in the budget narrative.  And the only measures used across all these branches relate to reductions in crime, and no measures with respect to reducing traffic crashes among motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.  Traffic safety and enforcement is hidden in this budget.

The police need to take on the risks posed by traffic in the same manner it takes on fighting crime.  In A Guide for Traffic Safety in the New Millennium, the International Association of Chiefs of Police states that police departments with proactive traffic enforcement programs have lower rates of crime and traffic crashes.  It recommends traffic units for police departments and short of that traffic officers trained and assigned to traffic enforcement. 

This will take assigning more officers for full time traffic enforcement.  We have 56 PSA’s in DC.  If one officer per PSA is assigned to traffic enforcement, that would be 56  officers, and this is a small percentage of the total police force.   In the Second District, which encompasses Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue from Western Avenue into Georgetown and part of the downtown area, we have only three full-time traffic officers.   One police officer suggested that we have each PSA assigned a traffic officer.  That would be 8 officers.   And why is there a  need for such assignments?  Officers who do traffic enforcement, but it is not their full-time responsibility, explain that they are often pulled off duty to respond to other priorities.  This needs to be their priority.

I do applaud MPD’s promoting  photo enforcement with an investment in equipment of $4,224,000 — a one-time expense, and an ongoing expense in personnel of $1,587,000, which will assist police officers in changing the traffic culture in this city.  Photo enforcement works in slowing speeds and preventing red light running.  And the present contract, which the Council should approve, will expand its focus to monitoring crosswalks without signals and intersections which get blocked  by traffic which makes it difficult and dangerous for pedestrians to cross.   But technology cannot do all the work.  We need officers out on the streets.

Last but not least is the need for investment in an ongoing and ramped up public education campaign on traffic safety.  There are two jobs for this campaign:  education about the law, and notification about photo enforcement.    Motorists in this city do not know the law.  In fact,  I question whether all police officers do.    There is a crosswalk at every intersection, whether marked or not, where a pedestrian can cross, and a car must stop if there is someone in the crosswalk.   Also,  it is legal for a pedestrian to cross mid-block when there is not a traffic light at both ends of the block.  From all the uproar over the red light camera at Fessenden Street and Nebraska Avenue, many drivers do not how and where to stop for a red light  before they make a right hand turn.  The DMV website,  public service announcements, and car insurance companies could be avenues for such a campaign.  I also suggest that MPD invest in “Welcome to DC” signs that warn drivers about photo enforcement, and hotels and car rental agencies  get information they can provide their customers.    

DC is leading the country on photo enforcement, let it also lead the country in an effective program of traffic enforcement and  show what it can do to reduce pedestrian crashes to make this a safe,walkable, and  livable city.  I would like to leave you with a quote from the report by the International Association of Police Chiefs, “More people are killed and injured and the economic losses to society are greater from traffic crashes than that from crime.”  

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Written by Marlene Berlin