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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Six Die on District Roads in Three Weeks

Six people have died on District roads in the last 18 days, between Oct. 9 and Oct. 26, according to Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) reports. The dead include two pedestrians, two drivers and the operators of two motorized bikes.

The Vision Zero program was introduced in 2015. Since that time there has been a steady increase in deaths on District roads, with the exception of a low in 2019. 35 people have died in 2021 so far, a 9 percent increase over this time last year. 37 people died in 2020, the highest number of traffic deaths in 14 years.

The deceased are among seven people known to be killed since Sept. 23, when the DC Auditor announced a 10-month review of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Vision Zero initiative.

The audit examines the Vision Zero program, designed to reduced traffic deaths to zero by 2024. The audit will examine whether the program has been implemented equitably throughout the District.

The audit will also include interviews with staff members and stakeholders as well as  a review of applicable laws, policies and procedures, budget and expenditure reports and program data and reports.

“Our audits and evaluations provide valuable insight regarding whether an agency’s business practices are efficient, its policies and procedures are effective, its internal controls need to be improved, and its programs are delivering the intended results,” DC Auditor Kathy Patterson wrote in the engagement letter.

Chart showing traffic deaths in DC, 2001-2020. MPD/Screenshot: https://mpdc.dc.gov/page/traffic-fatalities

DDOT Efforts

DDOT has made efforts to improve traffic safety. The speed limits on local streets has been reduced to 20 mph and a focus on intersections with high crash levels. The installation of protected bicycle lanes throughout the city is expected to reduce traffic and lower speeds.

Acting DDOT Director Everett Lott said he welcomed the review. “DDOT has a robust set of safety programs in place to achieve Mayor Bowser’s Vision Zero goals, and we look forward to working with the DC Auditor to help increase the public’s understanding of those efforts,” he said in an emailed response.

On Oct. 12, DDOT announced a plan to accelerate roadway improvements, including streamlining internal processes to so projects can be completed quickly, and accelerating the process to install roadway improvements to protect pedestrians, including curb bump-outs, speed bumps and and stop signs.

Even as these innovations were being implemented, people continued to die on District Streets. A vehicle described by police as traveling “at high rates of speed” was cited as a factor in four of the six cases. In each of those four cases, the driver of those vehicles died.

At a press conference two weeks later, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the program had resulted in 91 speed humps, 16 stop signs and 4 right turn hardening devices installed the Fall Safety Blitz was introduced.

Speaking at that event, Ward 3 Councilmember and DC Council Transportation Committee Chairperson Mary M. Cheh (D) said that there’s a lot more the District needs to do to make [streets] safer, citing a need for the expeditious resolution of community requests and proactive action.

But she said Vision Zero could not be achieved unless the District also combines enforcement and education. “We definitely need enforcement,” Cheh said. “We can have wonderful crosswalks, but if the cars are not following the rules and stopping for pedestrians, that doesn’t help very much.”

Two Pedestrians Killed 

On Saturday, Oct. 9, 35 year-old Elizabeth Burdette, of Cowansville, PA was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on the 1200 block of New York Avenue NE. She was crossing the street when the driver of a westbound vehicle stuck her and then fled the scene.

DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (DC FEMS) transported the victim to an area hospital for treatment of life threatening injuries, but Burdette succumbed to her injuries on Wednesday, Oct. 20. Police are still searching for the driver.

Eight days later, on Sunday, Oct. 17, a 73-year-old man was killed on the 3900 block of Benning Road NE. He was trying to cross the street at around 10:07 p.m. when the driver of an eastbound 2011 Ford Focus struck the man. The driver remained on the scene.

DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and after all life-saving efforts failed, 73-year-old Gary Minor, of Northeast DC was pronounced dead.

Three Motorbike Riders Killed

Five days after the audit of Vision Zero was announced, a 39 year-old on a motorbike was killed when he collided with a Volkswagen traveling in opposite direction at the intersection of Bowen Road and Ridge Road SE. Police cited the speed of the motorbike as a factor in the crash.

Two drivers, one of a motorbike and the other driving a dirt bike, were killed on Southern Avenue SE when they struck other vehicles. Officers cited the speed of the two motorized bikes as a factor in the crash.

At around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, the driver of a Yamaha dirt bike was speeding northbound on the 4700 block of Southern Avenue SE. As the driver of a Chevrolet Equinox going southbound tried to make a left turn onto Boones Hill Road, the Yamaha struck the passenger side door of the Chevrolet.

The impact caused the Yamaha driver to be thrown from the dirt bike. He was taken to an area hospital for treatment of life threatening injuries. 21 year-old Shaun Robinson, Jr., succumbed to his injuries the following Monday.

A week later, at approximately 12:09 p.m., a similar incident, also on Southern Avenue: on Monday, Oct. 25, the driver of a Suzuki motorcycle was going northeast on the 800 block of Southern Avenue, headed toward Southview Drive. Officers said the motorcycle was speeding when it hit a Metro Transit bus that was making a left turn onto Southview Drive. The motorcycle hit the bus’s right front side.

The Suzuki rider was also thrown from his motorcycle, reportedly suffering cardiac arrest. He was transported to an area hospital for treatment where the victim, 30 year-old Southeast resident Ronnie Lyons, succumbed to his injuries.

Two Drivers

Speed was also a factor in the deaths of drivers, who died after losing control of speeding cars.

At approximately 2:17 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, the driver of a Kia Optima was speeding down the northbound lane of the 600 block of South Capitol Street SE. The driver lost control, mounted the curb and struck a light pole in the northeast corner of the block. The Kia Optima came to a final rest in the Unit block of E Street.

The driver was ejected from the vehicle at impact. DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (DC FEMS) responded to the scene and transported him to an area hospital for treatment where, despite all life-saving efforts, 38 year-old Jamal Braddy, of Temple Hills, Maryland succumbed to his injuries.

A little less than 14 hours later, at approximately 3:58 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, the driver of a Toyota Camry was also speeding southbound, on the E Street Expressway. After passing under the tunnel, police said, the Toyota Camry lost control and continued onto the triangle just before the road split to DC and Virginia.

The driver struck a metal guard railing and then a light pole; the car rolled onto its roof on top of a section of railing. When DCFEMS found the victim, officials said, there were no signs of life. 24 year-old Saket Kanade of Herndon, Virginia was pronounced dead at the scene.

Tools Exist

There have tools in place to accelerate roadway safety improvements for years. In 2019, DC Council unanimously passed the Vision Zero Omnibus Act, which requires roadway improvements under certain conditions, creates stronger enforcement of existing speeding, parking and traffic laws; and requires updates to the DDOT transportation plan once every two years. That legislation is currently unfunded.

On Sept. 28 Councilmembers Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3-D), Chairs of the Committees on Judiciary and Public Safety and Transportation respectively, wrote a letter to DDOT Director Everett Lott. In the letter, the councilmembers asked DDOT to use its resources to implement parts of the legislation, arguing that the agency could have implemented many of the policies regardless.

“To put it another way, you could be—indeed, you and your predecessors could have been for years—doing nearly everything in the Vision Zero legislation, and in so doing, you might have prevented the death of a 5-year-old girl, a 90-year old woman, or any of the others on our road,” the letter read.

Anyone who has knowledge of the above incidents should call police at (202) 727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s Text Tip Line at 50411.

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