Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This Blog May Be Hazardous to the Health of Pedestrians

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.


Anonymous said...

I was with you until you said you were a driver. lame. :)

What bothers me is that there are parts of the city that don't have sidewalks! I mean, this is a major metropolitan city, with hundreds of thousands of residents and a daytime population of well over a million people, and there are parts of the city with no sidewalks? My guess is that all of them are in SE (and a few hoity toity neighborhoods in NW occupied by NIMBYS). What a shame that you can't safely get from one end of the city to another on your own two feet any way you choose.

Scenic Artisan said...

it actually surprises me that its second.

there are a lot of intersections that i would have thought had more injuries.

a thing that irritates me is when cars pull into the cross walk, let alone doing it in front of cops.

instead of speeding cameras i really love the part of porter street just west of Connecticut that has a traffic light tied to speeding. you go to fast, you have to stop for a red light.
brilliant. yet its the only one i know of.

Mr. 14th & You said...

Scenic--I hadn't heard of the traffic light on Porter set-up. Is that clearly marked? It would seem that it might lead to a proliferation of people gunning it in an attempt to beat the light...but what do I know? maybe it works.

William said...

I got a ticket for jaywalking once, but the funny thing was that I wasn't jaywalking at all (I walked in the designated area as the walk signal was displayed, but it turned to don't walk as i reached the curb).

Anyway, my point is that when they send POs to "enforce jaywalking" all they end up doing is standing at a corner and harassing citizens. Its totally useless. I saw this guy call over people for about an hour who were not the problem at all. (i.e. they were walking int he designated area, etc.)

They can't just send some guy out to stand on a corner. they need police to actually stop the behavior when they see REAL jaywalking.

14th & You said...

William, I agree. What I see as a large problem for this intersection is the turn arrow for cars. Northbound 14th Street traffic has a signal for left turns onto westbound U St. Presumably this was installed for both vehicle and pedestrian safety. Yet, I have never seen a light cycle during which pedestrians did not cross against the turn arrow.

14th & You said...

To piggy-back on Mr. 14th & You's post: I see a lot of awful drivers, particularly on weekend evenings. From what I can gather, VA and MD drivers aren't well practiced in yielding to pedestrians.

A few years ago, I lived in a small city (25k people) with a huge bar scene on one particular street. On busy weekends, the cops would just shut down vehicle traffic at their discretion in the high-volume areas. I wish we could experiment with something like that here. However, I think the volume of cars that would then be traveling down residential streets would raise the ire of local residents and perhaps really gunk up traffic. Then again what are all of those cars doing on a street easily reached by both the red and green lines?

Scenic Artisan said...

Mr. 14th & You said...

Scenic--I hadn't heard of the traffic light on Porter set-up. Is that clearly marked? It would seem that it might lead to a proliferation of people gunning it in an attempt to beat the light...but what do I know? maybe it works.

it works pretty well actually. its maybe a block and a half off of Connecticut. i love that it works, but not by monetary punishments well after the fact. its immediate, and a pain is a speeders ass.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed the officer on 13th and U Street who is stationed there during rush hour to specifically harass commuters on their way to the metro in the AM? That guy doesn't seem to be effectively combating the J-walking in the city. He is just pretty rude and annoying. There must be a better way!