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

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