Keeping Streets Safe for Parkside Neighbors

ANC Commissioner Works With DDOT and WABA

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The intersection at 34th St and Benning Road. Photo: Matt Litman

Samanta Iqbal, 23. Struck by a car at 9:58 p.m. on Nov. 20, 2017 at the 700 Block of Kenilworth Terrace, NE. Iqbal died of her injuries four days later. That was who Justin Lini, the ANC Commissioner for 7D07 Paradise and Parkside, was thinking about as he sat outside the Eastern Market Metro station on a hot September afternoon.

“She had been struck by a car at an intersection [that] community members had been trying to get improvements on for a year at that point,” Lini said. “Lane markings had worn out, crosswalk markings had worn out, so the visibility was not very good.”

In response to the crash, he formed the ANC 7D’s Transportation Committee for his neighborhood and its surrounding communities, and it started getting to work immediately.

“The committee worked with community members to identify a number of safety issues in the broader community,” Lini said. “These were largely maintenance issues, like lane markings, enforcement. A lot of simple things that when added up … make the community a lot more hazardous to walk through.”

Working with DDOT
Sherron Pressley, 51. Victim of a hit-and-run on Aug. 30, 2018 at approximately 3:45 p.m., on the 1600 Block of Kenilworth Avenue, NE. Her death was first on the agenda of the Transportation Committee’s September meeting. Some of the community members attending the meeting voiced their frustrations over the local government’s lack of response to the accident. Mysiki Valentine, 28, a current candidate to be the ANC Commissioner of 7D04, was particularly upset.

“We’ve not heard from the councilmember, we’ve not heard from DDOT, we’ve not heard from the mayor’s office,” Valentine said in an interview. “It’s a very clear display of how much lives really matter in Ward 7 when people can get hit on the street and nobody says a word, nobody implements a plan for change.”

Valentine, 28, has lived in River Terrace for 25 years, and has seen the lack of government action first hand at an infamous intersection at 34th and Benning Road. Valentine pulled out his phone and watched a video of cars making illegal U-turns across a sidewalk.

“We’ve lost neighbors at that crosswalk, my mother has gotten hit at that crosswalk, there’s been no mediation on that crosswalk in over 20 years,” Valentine said. “[My mother] was out of work for about six weeks, in the bed for about two weeks, like she really was not moving.”

Valentine reported the incident and petitioned DDOT to take a look at the intersection. DDOT claims to have responded and enacted safety measures.

“Within two weeks of meeting Mr. Valentine at an ANC meeting, DDOT installed quick curb and pylons to create a barrier to prevent drivers from making a U-turn short of the intersection,” Terry Owens, the Public Information Officer for DDOT, wrote in an email. “That was a short-term strategy. Long term, the agency will conduct a Parkside Circulation Study to evaluate traffic flow and connectivity in the area.”

“We welcome input from the community around safety concerns and will continue to be responsive as quickly as possible,” Owens added.

According to his office, Councilmember Grey attended the recent September 27th Vision Zero hearing and addressed many of the public’s concerns there in person. Grey has also been in dialogue with DDOT, and is preparing to institute solutions to the many transportation issues in Ward 7.

Justin Lini interacts with attendees at ANC 7D’s Transportation Committee meeting on Monday, September 17th. Photo: Matt Litman

Working with WABA
Lini, however, has found a partner in the Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA). A staff member from WABA, Jonathan Stafford, was present at the September 17 Transportation Committee meeting, taking notes and offering input. Like Lini, WABA believes there is a real inequity in transportation infrastructure across the wards.

“When you really look down at where those investments have gone, they have not been equitable,” said Greg Billing, Executive Director of WABA. “Ward 2 and Ward 1 have the most miles of protected bike lanes and regular bike lanes. Wards 7 and 8 don’t, and that’s sort of a microcosm for the city.”

In Wards 7 and 8, there are major roadways nearby that take commuters and residents in and out of the city, like Pennsylvania Avenue, Benning Road, East Capitol Street and Suitland Parkway. Those high-trafficked roads bring in more people and cars to the local community and its neighboring roads, “where the number of crashes is astronomical,” said Billing.

According to data released from DDOT, there were 3,959 crashes in Wards 7 and 8 in 2015, and from 2013-2015, Wards 7 and 8 accounted for 30% of the crash-related fatalities in all of DC.

“The number of people who have been hit and killed crossing these streets is unjustly high,” Billing said, “and it’s because we’ve decided that getting commuters in and out of the city through these communities is the top priority, not the safety of the people who live there.”

WABA has helped petition and mobilize community responses east of the river and for that, Lini is thankful.

“You’re always looking for opportunities to partner up with other groups to have a stronger say in how things go,” he said.

A deeper pain
As road safety conditions in Wards 7 and 8 continue to deteriorate, however, the patience of residents run thin, and their anger points to a deeper pain of feeling neglected.

“It’s very frustrating,” Valentine said. “It’s the common thread of, ‘We’re not listening to residents of Ward 7, we’re not putting development in Ward 7, we’re not giving Ward 7 amenities, and we don’t care about safety or traffic in Ward 7.’ It’s very clear. It’s cut and dried.”

“There’s a lot of runaround,” Lini said. “There’s a lot of inertia that I think you have to push through, and I just am not certain that money has been focused in communities like mine over the last several decades.”

“It’s a political issue,” Lini continued. “I don’t want to lay it all on the feet of DDOT. But when it comes to budget, it’s the communities who make the most noise [that] tend to get what they want.”

And while DDOT representatives sometimes attend Lini’s community meetings, even after their official working hours, there is still the challenge of being heard on all levels of government, from the ANC Commissioner to the Mayor’s office. That’s where residents come in.

“We can’t do it all alone,” Lini said. “When it comes time to do those government pushes, we need you.”