OK, perhaps our blog is rather benign when it comes to pedestrian safety, but our namesake intersection most certainly is not.
Last year, the intersection of 14th and U Streets was named as the second most dangerous intersection in the city. As frequenters of that pedestri-auto free-for-all, such a revelation doesn't surprise us in the least. Between the checked-out drivers scrambling to get through the intersection, pedestrians who ignore the crosswalk signals and a density that rivals that of any in the District, it's a miracle there aren't more injuries and fatalities there.
Well yesterday, DC mayor Adrian Fenty unveiled his plan for increased pedestrian safety, targeting the ten most dangerous intersections in the District. Dr. Gridlock has a pretty good summation of the master plan, which includes the following points:
- Ensure all transportation and real estate development projects include safe and convenient pedestrian facilities.
- Construct new sidewalks where missing on streets in the District.
- Improve pedestrian access and safety at uncontrolled crossings and intersections.
- Improve pedestrian access and safety at bus stops.
- Revise the DDOT Design and Engineering Manual to better address pedestrian safety and accessibility.
- Train roadway planners and designers to make sure they understand these new safety policies and practices.
- Increase penalties for motorists for infractions that impact pedestrian safety.
- Expand the speed camera enforcement program.
- Teach people the rules of the road and the benefits of walking.
Many of those points aren't really that debatable, and some make you wonder why the District hasn't been doing it already (it seems that teaching drivers the "rules of the road" would be pretty standard stuff, no?) But there are a couple of issues worth pointing out.
One, all of the plans and ideas in the world won't matter if it's not supported by enforcement. I can't even begin to recount the number of times I have been practically mowed down by a driver on 14th Street as I try to cross at Corcoran--one of those "uncontrolled crossings and intersections" mentioned above. Several times, this has happened while a police car was also in the vicinity. So long as drivers can routinely behave this way without repercussion, it will continue to happen.
Secondly, jaywalking is a tremendous problem in this city. And I don't just mean people diving out into the intersection with 2 seconds left on the countdown clock either. I'm talking about people who just step off the curb in the middle of the street and begin a slow amble across to the other side, all the while cars are forced to come to screeching stops to avoid hitting the person. U Street and 14th Street are infamous for this kind of behavior, but in truth I've seen it everywhere. I've heard it argued that the police should have better things to do with their time than enforce jaywalking laws, and I'm sympathetic to that. Yet, along busy commercial corridors at peak traffic times, persistent jaywalking becomes both a nuisance and a safety issue--and it should be enforced.
As both a pedestrian and a driver in this city, I'm sympathetic to the arguments from both sides, but what's apparent to me is that lax enforcement, coupled with outright idiotic traffic planning measures on the part of DDOT, have contributed mightily towards this problem of pedestrian safety that we're now witnessing. With regards to the utility of the mayor's plan, to quote one of the commenters responding to the Dr. Gridlock piece: I'll believe it when I see it.