In the last month alone, traffic accidents east of the river claimed the lives of both 31-year-old Bronx resident Abdul Seck and an unnamed driver. Both involving speeding, the deaths are two of ten recorded in DC this year, deaths that have drawn the attention of city lawmakers and hundreds of their constituents – all frustrated cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.
In response, Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6) has introduced a bill overhauling the Districtʼs approach to reducing the number of deaths of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. The bill focuses on creating streets with safe accommodations for pedestrians via improved sidewalks, crosswalks and intersections and more protected bicycle lanes for cyclists and other non-car users.
Just over four years ago, DC pledged a “Vision Zero” approach to reduce traffic fatalities to zero by 2024. Yet with each passing year, the number of traffic-related deaths has steadily climbed. In 2018, the District reported a fatality rate 38 percent higher than in 2015.
Looking toward another year of implementing Vision Zero safety standards, city transportation officials are proposing a multi-pronged strategy that aims to expand resources, increase traffic safety education and tackle major road repairs. Already, these citywide initiatives are percolating into Wards 7 and 8, which suffer disproportionately higher rates of traffic accidents, according to the traffic safety and Vision Zero advocate group Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).
Vision Zero in Wards 7 and 8
No sidewalks, potholes and faulty traffic lights: the list goes on of pending projects to complete in Wards 7 and 8.
“The streets in Ward 8 are constantly troublesome,” said Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, who told me in a statement that he recently got a flat tire.
“Patching the potholes does not seem to be a viable solution. Every time I call [DDOT] Director Marootian, he gets right on it, but I have to call him more than usual.”
“We’ve heard a lot of this,” said Garrett Hennigan, a WABA community organizer. “So many of the major corridors in Ward 8 were built for driving, and they may have sidewalks, but they’re not safe to walk or cross. Certainly not to bike on.”
According to Vision Zero Safety data, which maps road dangers reported by the public, Wards 7 and 8 are light on reported offenses, while most are concentrated in Wards 2, 6 and 1. A lot of this data helps DDOT decide which reparation projects to tackle next, as they are prioritized by need.
“If you take something like paving, for example, we use data to inform us where all of the worst roads in the District are,” said DDOT director Jeff Martoonian. “Those are pretty evenly distributed proportionally across all eight wards. So we’re prioritizing that work based on locations are that need it the most.”
Implementing Vision Zero involves more than fixing potholes. Along Mississippi Avenue SE, DDOT installed a series of speed bumps to mitigate unsafe driving. The area is what 8D04 ANC Commissioner Monique Diop calls a “hot spot.”
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about lawlessness,” she said. “We’re adding speed bumps all the time, but if people don’t start actually paying attention to the rules and regulations, I don’t know what we’re going to do. That’s why we should all learn how to be safer.”
Vision Zero also enables DDOT to bolster programs on traffic safety and education. In late March, the agency unveiled a traffic garden – a miniature town designed for students to learn about roadway safety – in Neval Thomas Elementary School in Ward 7 and Aiton Elementary School in Ward 8, using grant funds from Vision Zero.
These developments come just weeks after DDOT established its new Vision Zero office, which is now dedicated full-time to innovating traffic regulation and engineering, as well as sourcing community feedback. Diop praised DDOT for stepping in on a number of projects she advocated for.
“I have things that I vouched for that I’ve gotten,” Diop said. “They’ll do the best that they can with the resources that they have, but there’s also so much work to be done.”
Indeed, Diop is one of many depending on the agency for help. Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent C. Gray announced late March he’d struck a deal with DDOT to repave Southern Avenue SE, a street he called “horrific” for its numerous potholes.
According to WABA, DC isn’t falling behind on Vision Zero for lack of DDOT’s involvement – they say it’s because of inaction from other city government agencies.
“When the mayor made her commitment to Vision Zero in 2015, [her office] brought together every agency head in the city government to figure out what role each agency could play in getting to zero,” Hennigan explained.
“Two years later, the number of fatalities each year had gone up, and more than half of those action items remained undone.”
In addition to DDOT, Vision Zero touches more than 20 DC agencies, including the Department of Public Works, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Metropolitan Police Department, the Office of the Attorney General, the Deputy Mayor for Education and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
Fixing Public Involvement
In December 2018, WABA issued a policy plan aimed at kick-starting Vision Zero, which had been making “incremental adjustments,” according to the report.
Among the major reforms listed, WABA called for better public education in the Vision Zero process and civic engagement.
“Usually, when you think of traffic education, you think about learning how to cross the street safely. But what if we got people who knew enough about design solutions to make crossing the street easier?” said WABA executive director Greg Billing.
In March, WABA hosted the third annual Washington Regional Vision Zero Summit, which convened policymakers, experts and key members of Mayor Bowser’s administration, including Mayor Bowser herself, to evaluate the city’s progress towards its five-year, zero-fatality goal. Billing presented a poster featuring voices, comments and concerns of residents from nearly every ward. A new addition to the summit, Billing felt the community voice had been missing from vital policy conversations.
“If you looked around the room,” said Billing, “most of the people there had the privilege of being at a 9-5 summit.”
WABA also stated it will continue community education and relationship building in Wards 4, 7 and 8. Billing hopes to teach community members how to advocate for themselves, so they can join conversations to reinvigorate Vision Zero.
“It’s important that people are empowered to ask for what they need, and to understand how to get it,” he added. “We only have a few people working on this citywide, and we need more people to be a part of that process.”
“We have a lot of issues in Ward 8,” said Diop, “but our people are not letting the city know about them. Once you report [a problem], we’re going to do something about it.”
Mayor Bowser has proposed a $15.5 billion 2020 budget package that includes $65 million for new Vision Zero commitments and $2.8 million to increase towing during rush hour and create a new bike lane enforcement team.
Councilmember Vincent Gray could not be reached for comment.
To learn how to get involved with DC’s Vision Zero initiative, contact your local ANC Commissioner. To file a road service request, visit https://311.dc.gov/.