Dangers Lurk for Walkers

City Aims to Improve Safety

Posted July 23, 2008 at 4:35pm

Plans for pedestrian safety improvements in the District were in the works long before this month, but the recent death of a pedestrian struck in front of Union Station highlighted the need for changes, according to city officials.

D.C. is embarking on an $18 million, 10-year campaign to protect the city’s walkers.

There were 25 pedestrian deaths in 2007 and nine more through May 20 of this year, which put the city on pace for a slight decrease.

Just Wednesday, political commentator Robert Novak struck a pedestrian with his Corvette on K Street Northwest and was cited for failure to yield. The victim was not seriously hurt.

“The District is committed to making streets safer for pedestrians,” Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) said in a recent statement. “The Pedestrian Master Plan recommends new traffic safety policies and roadway improvements to meet that goal.”

The most recent fatality stemmed from a June 26 accident in front of Union Station in which a 71-year-old man was hit by a vehicle. Jerome Jones was crossing against the light and may have been under the influence of alcohol, according to police. Jones died a week later.

As part of the pedestrian plan, each ward was allotted one area for intensive improvements. In Ward 6, M Street in Southwest and Southeast, near the new Nationals Park and the emerging Federal Center Southeast, will see improvements. The area is expected to grow in density and pedestrian traffic in the near future.

“One of the things DDOT wanted to do was look at this from a planning perspective,” said Charles Allen, chief of staff for Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells (D). “Where’s a street that [is] a blank canvas but over the next 10 years is going to have all kinds of stuff around it? Tommy has said M Street has an opportunity to be a new main street within 10 or 15 years.”

The District Department of Transportation conducted a survey of residents before forming its plan.

Three of four District residents walk three or more times per week to work, to run errands, for exercise or for entertainment, according to the study. Almost half of residents identified unsafe street crossings as the primary difficulty facing pedestrians in the city. A quarter identified personal safety and 16 percent said missing or unsafe sidewalks were their chief concern.

Improvements will include better pedestrian signage and crosswalks. Bus stops will be moved to increase pedestrian safety and fines for motorist infractions that affect pedestrians will be increased.

Allen said the city may use pedestrian-activated flashing lights at busy intersections.

The eight ward-specific projects will consume about a third of the plan’s $18 million budget, according to Jim Sebastian, a DDOT transportation planner working on the plan. Another $3 million will go to completing the city’s sidewalk network.