D.C.'s Official Pedestrian Advisory Body

Appointed by the D.C. Council to advise the Mayor, the D.C. Council, DDOT and other agencies.

Next Meeting: July 8th, 2024

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With winter weather ahead, D.C. Council considers plans for clearing snow

The Washington Post Capital Weather Gang predicts above average snowfall and below average temperatures this winter, and District government agencies are planning their response. The forecasters laid out their gloomy predictions and Department of Public Works Director Bill Howland laid out a strategy for clearing snow at a hearing earlier this month. Despite the bad news about the forecast, there was some good news for pedestrians. In locations where local government is responsible for sidewalks, pet-safe de-icer will be used more this year, Howland said. In addition, DPW is ready to deploy specialized equipment for clearing sidewalks along bridges. The challenge of clearing bridge sidewalks was tragically highlighted in February when a man was killed while he was walking along the roadway on the Sousa Bridge after a snowfall left the sidewalk inaccessible.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh seemed generally satisfied with preparations for this coming winter. “We’re ready, and we’re in good shape,” Cheh declared as she adjourned the Nov. 14 hearing.

A few days after that hearing, the D.C. Council approved Cheh’s sidewalk clearing bill. “The Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act” would make it easier for the city to press homeowners and business owners to clear snow off their sidewalks. Currently, the District can fine homeowners who fail to shovel, but the law requires going to court to do so. The new law, which won’t go into effect until next winter, would allow the District government to issue fines of $25 to residences and $150 to businesses that fail to clear snow from sidewalks within 24 hours of the end of a snowfall. Residents who are over 65 or are disabled would be exempt from the fine. The Council approved the bill with amendments by a vote of 10-3, with Councilmembers Barry, Bowser and Graham rejecting the plan because of concerns that elderly and disabled homeowners would receive fines.

20 intersections safer under MoveDC action plan

MoveDC plans align with goals of the Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC), the PAC’s Ward 7 Representative Robin Murphy testified Friday at a hearing in D.C. Council chambers. The Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment held a hearing on the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) MoveDC and streetcar plans in order to gather feedback from concerned citizens and information from DDOT leaders. MoveDC states that pedestrians will be the first priority in transportation planning over the next couple decades, and an action plan released in October named a goal of making at least 20 intersections safer for pedestrians over the next two years. Just before the MoveDC action plan was released, the PAC agreed at its September meeting to make safer intersection design its priority for the year ahead. “We feel strongly that careful design can help reduce pedestrian crashes and promote walking in our neighborhoods,” Murphy testified. Read Murphy’s complete testimony here.

At its next monthly meeting on Monday, the PAC will host Sam Zimbabwe, associate director of DDOT’s Policy, Planning & Sustainability Administration, to discuss the plan for improving at least 20 intersections within in the next two years. The meeting will be 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 24 at 441 4th Street NW, Room 1117. See the agenda.

Street Smart campaign highlights road diets

Transportation officials from the District, Virginia and Maryland gathered on Sherman Avenue on November 7 to launch the Fall 2014 Street Smart campaign and draw awareness to street safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments brings the three jurisdictions together every fall when daylight savings time ends because of the increased danger on roadways after dark. Seventy percent of pedestrian fatalities occur at night, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Street Smart campaign literature urges road users to “remain alert, share the road and obey traffic laws.”

“Last year 66 pedestrians and seven bicyclists were killed in the Washington region and that number needs to move toward zero,” said George Branyan, the pedestrian program coordinator for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).

Engineering, enforcement and education are the tools for improving safety, said speakers at the Street Smart launch.

“We are trying to make our network in the District and around the region accessible for all,” DDOT Director Matt Brown said at the Street Smart kickoff. The location for the kickoff event was the D.C. Fire Department Engine Company 4 station on Sherman Avenue NW, a street that underwent a “road diet” in order to increase safety for all users. The roadway was narrowed from four to two lanes, sidewalks were widened, and a bicycle lane and median were added. “This was a significant engineering solution,” Brown said. The 85th percentile motor vehicle speeds were reduced from 35 mph to 28 mph after the road diet, he reported. The District needs to do more of those kinds of projects, Brown said.

“We are holding D.C. up as an example across the nation,” said Keith Sinclair, a highway safety engineer at the Federal Highway Administration’s National Resource Center. “Road diets can reduce crashes. It’s a very effective counter measure,” Sinclair said.

Officials from Virginia and Maryland discussed beefing up enforcement efforts and expanding bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

One speaker’s personal experience highlighted the importance of the efforts of these transportation and law enforcement officials.
Kenniss Henry talked about her daughter's life and death at the 2014 Fall Street Smart campaign kickoff.
“Far too many bicyclists and pedestrians die each year, and one is far too many,” said Kenniss Henry, the mother of Natasha Pettigrew, a Prince George’s County woman who was struck and killed by a driver in 2010 while she was training for a Half Ironman competition. She urged drivers to obey traffic signals and drive proactively. “We must pledge to save lives,” she said.

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) held a pedestrian safety action on Sherman Avenue at Girard Street NW immediately following the Street Smart kickoff. MPD officers issued 8 to 10 citations to drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and/or were using cellphones while operating their vehicles.
MPD officers issued citations on Sherman Avenue NW to drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Vulnerable road users rally for a fairer legal system

Photo from @cmdgrosso
Pedestrian and bicycling advocates gathered at the Wilson Building on Thursday for a press conference held by Councilmembers Tommy Wells and David Grosso to bring attention to a bill that would improve the ability of vulnerable road users to collect damages if they are struck by a motor vehicle.

Wells and Grosso were promoting the “Vulnerable User Recovery Act of 2014,” legislation that would allow the District to adopt a legal standard of comparative negligence in place of the existing contributory negligence standard. The District is one of a handful of jurisdictions in the country that still practices the contributory negligence doctrine, meaning that a bicyclist or pedestrian can be denied insurance compensation even if an automobile driver with whom they collide is found to be 99 percent at fault and the bicyclist or pedestrian is just one percent to blame. Using a comparative negligence standard instead of a contributory negligence standard would allow a judge, jury or insurance adjustor to weigh the fault of the driver and bicyclist. For example, under comparative negligence a $10,000 award to a bicyclist from a driver’s insurance would be lowered to $6,000 if the bicyclist is determined to be 40 percent at fault for the collision. Under current District law, the bicyclist can be denied any compensation.

“This is unjust,” Grosso said at the press conference. He vowed to reintroduce the bill in January if the measure fails during these closing days of the current legislative session.

The bill was originally introduced by Grosso to cover bicyclists only, but at a September 29 hearing pedestrian advocates, including the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council, asked that pedestrians be included in the legislation. Pedestrians are no match for cars, PAC representative Jessica Tunon testified at the hearing. “Pedestrian errors do not have the same inherent potential for danger and violence as driver errors,” Tunon said. “It seems only fair to weigh each party’s degree of responsibility and distribute compensation in proportion to the degree of fault.” In addition to bicyclists and pedestrians, the bill would cover wheelchair users, roller skaters, road construction or emergency services workers and others.

In asking council members to support Bill 20-884, the PAC listed the following reasons:

  • More than 800 pedestrians are struck each year in the District, and 300 of them sustain serious injuries. Pedestrians are much more likely than drivers to suffer injuries, incur hospital bills and miss workdays.
  • Although collision victims sometimes succeed in court despite the existing contributory negligence law, crash victims with less serious injuries may never hire lawyers or go to court. Instead, they seek compensation through insurance claims, and those claims may be denied because of the District’s contributory negligence law. The change in law will allow victims to have a greater chance to collect compensation.
  • The bill has been amended specifically to address the concerns of the trial lawyers regarding joint and several liability.
  • During some crash investigations, misunderstandings or confusing evidence result in pedestrians being unfairly ruled at fault. The change in law will allow them to have a chance to collect compensation despite those mistakes.
  • 46 other jurisdictions have already dropped the contributory negligence standard.

On Friday, the D.C. Council Judiciary and Public Safety Committee will consider the “Vulnerable User Recovery Act of 2014.” Committee members have the opportunity to create a fairer legal system for injured pedestrians and other vulnerable road users throughout the District.