Pedestrian Killed at Dangerous Intersection, Despite Efforts to Improve Safety
18th St and Florida Avenue intersection. North is at the top. Photo from Greater Greater Washington.

18th St and Florida Avenue intersection. North is at the top. Photo from Greater Greater Washington.

Two recent incidents involving careless drivers and bikers in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region have area residents wondering whether the new and proposed bike routes and safety measures are actually generating on-the-ground results.

Natasha Pettigrew, who was running for Maryland State Senate as the Green Party candidate, was struck in Largo, Md. at 5:00 a.m. on September 21, 2010.  Pettigrew was training for a triathlon early in the morning and she died later that same day in the hospital.  The driver, Christy Littleford, made it all the way to her home in Upper Marlboro, Md. – three miles away – before she realized what had happened. The bike remained lodged in her car the entire way. The woman said she thought she had struck an animal and did not call the police until she reached her home.

In another collision earlier this month, Chamica Adams was charged with criminal aggravated assault after she struck and killed a Johns Hopkins student and injured another woman while driving drunk in Adams Morgan. The driver was heading south on 18th Street and attempted to turn left onto Florida Avenue when her vehicle jumped the center median and hit the two women as they waited to cross the street.  Her vehicle ended up inside Keren Restaurant on Florida Avenue.

Back in June 2009, a post on WashCycle said the proposed streetscape reconstruction where 18th Street intersects Florida Avenue — the exact location where the crash occurred — was supposed to begin back in the fall of 2009. However, nearly a year later, it looks like construction is just now slated to begin. The article detailing the 18- to 24-month project was written only five days before the fatal crash on September 8, and it states specifically that the improvements will yield “a safer pedestrian experience.”  However, David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington states, “DDOT has not done a good job in recent years of managing these streetscape projects,” citing delays, negative impacts on local businesses and unattractive construction sites.

Even more troubling, this same intersection was the topic of an involved discussion on the citizen activism website, SeeClickFix.  You can view the discussion thread and details on the intersection here. A number of D.C. officials posted to the site, starting in October 2009, leaving their contact information. What follows is a summary of the conversation.

Wilson Reynolds, director of constituent services in Ward One, said that plans were in the works for a streetscape reconstruction project and provided links (which now do not work) to the plan, which he said received overwhelming approval.

A commenter on SeeClickFix, Lucy Barber, said of the intersection:

“18th/Florida/U street intersection is both dangerous and confusing enough to deserve some intermediate changes.  I think in the 3.5 years since I’ve been here cars have taken out the stoplight on the median for the left turn lane from the 18th street to U/Florida. Couldn’t we just turn off that option now and require everyone to make the “hard” left at 18th/Florida? If we have to wait for the streetscape project, then I would also wonder when that portion will be addressed.”

Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham got involved in the SeeClickFix conversation, directing the issue to DDOT Director Gabe Klein:

“Residents have identified a serious safety hazard for pedestrians crossing U Street just east of 18th Street NW. Drivers are confused by the traffic signal and routinely run the light. Fast moving cars are in direct conflict with pedestrians who have the right-of-way. This is a tragedy waiting to happen.” He continues, “I know that this intersection will be redesigned during the 18th Street Streetscape, but we need an immediate fix here. Please advise what DDOT can do.”

David Daddio, TheCityFix’s full-time blogger at the time, provided an update in November, observing that DDOT installed one or two “yield to pedestrian” signs, which he said were unsatisfactory given the complexity of the intersection. Barber continued the discussion:

“One of the new signs actually blocks the crosswalk sign. I am somewhat resigned to no real fix until the ‘redesign.’ The problem is two-par: Drivers are impatient and can’t see pedestrians (a no turn on red from 18th to U/Florida would help). Pedestrians also routinely ignore the ‘don’t walk’ symbols because the timing is so long to deal with the complexity of the intersection.”

The response to the issue on the streetscape redesign from Aaron Rhones of DDOT said in December that the improvements will soon begin and include a shortened pedestrian crosswalk at U Street and Florida Avenue as well as a widened sidewalk at south side of the corner. He also said the two median islands will be become one, larger island. David Alpert details the plan in a Greater Greater Washington blog post.

washcycle lane widening

Three months after the initial discussion on SeeClickFix, Rhones provided an update listing a number of important and requested changes.  However, a few months after his comment, Barber again responded saying most of the issues that Rhones had said were fixed had not been resolved.  The SeeClickFix dialog ends four months ago with Barber asking, “When is it reasonable to expect clearer marking and more pedestrian friendly walk signals?”

Her question echoes tragically with this month’s death and serious injury at the same intersection.  With all the new bike lanes, lighting and signage, is safety improving in D.C?

Deadly for Pedestrians

Struck in DC, a new Twitter feed and accompanying blog, has started keeping track of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities in D.C. since June this year. You can report an incident anonymously here.

A recent infographic by GOOD magazine shows that D.C. has 5.74 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to 4.42 in Boston, Mass., 3.39 in Portland, Ore. (comparable with Amsterdam), and, the lowest of the bunch, Stockholm, Sweden, which has only 1.23 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents.  Washington is also ranked as one of the top 10 most deadliest metro areas for pedestrians, according to a report, “Dangerous by Design,” published by Transportation for America. In 2007, 21.7% of all traffic deaths in the D.C. metro area were people on foot.

While D.C. isn’t the most deadly U.S. city for walking (New York City is ranked highest), the recent bicycle and pedestrian injuries and deaths show a city that either has lax traffic enforcement, poor drivers, badly designed (or not enough) bike facilities, sidewalks or crosswalks, or all of the above. D.C. needs to improve each of these elements, and city officials need to respond more quickly and nimbly to citizen alerts of unsafe crossings, if for no other reason than to prevent avoidable injuries and deaths.

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