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DDOT Late On Arkansas Avenue Safety Plan

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Kelly Dillon stands outside the courthouse, where she watched the trial of a man responsible for her injured legs.
Martin Di Caro/WAMU
Kelly Dillon stands outside the courthouse, where she watched the trial of a man responsible for her injured legs.
DDOT issued a draft report on fixes for Arkansas Ave. NW, but it's unclear when a final report is coming.

When Kelly Dillon emerged from D.C. Superior Court she walked slowly, favoring her left leg.

Six months removed from a crash that nearly severed her limb, the 28-year-old schoolteacher remains in physical discomfort, unable to return to work or the outdoor activities that once took up her free time. But on Wednesday she endured an emotionally taxing afternoon in a courtroom watching the trial of the man whose recklessness changed her life for the worse six months ago.

A jury convicted Manuel Ramirez-Grijalva of Hyattsville on four counts, including driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, and he was sentenced to more than a year behind bars.

“It gives me some closure because at least now I have laid eyes on the person who is responsible for my injuries. Before that was kind of a mystery to me since I never saw him coming and didn't see him leave,” Dillon said in an interview of the courthouse steps.

In late October Ramirez-Grijalva crashed into the back of a parked car along Arkansas Ave. NW in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood of Washington, smashing that car into the vehicle parked in front of it. Kelly Dillon was standing in between the bumpers, right outside her home. The driver fled.

“I think I will finally have closure when we start seeing some results on the city’s end in terms of fixing traffic conditions on the road where I live,” she added.

While Ramirez-Grijalva was drunk, Dillon and her neighbors also fault the design of Arkansas Ave. NW for his and several other similar crashes, including one last Friday. On May 1, the District Department of Transportation was supposed to deliver safety recommendations to slow down drivers who use the residential avenue as a highway to and from Maryland.

“The recommendations are not yet final,” said DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders, who declined to comment further.

To Dillon, DDOT’s late and incomplete response is frustrating.

“Last Friday night there was another accident on Arkansas Avenue right by my house in which a driver collided with a parked car, so it is the same type of accident we have been trying to prevent all along,” Dillon said.

Arkansas Ave. NW appears to be a four-lane road (two lanes in each direction). But the lanes are not clearly marked. When there are no parked cars along the curb, drivers often speed and change lanes. That is the case during rush hour when both lanes of the avenue’s northbound side are wide open.

During the rest of the day, the parking lane is often empty for long stretches, leading drivers to think they have an open, two-lane thoroughfare to pass slower cars. But when drivers approach a block with parked cars the sudden bottleneck creates a danger. Pedestrians and bicyclists say the avenue is not safe for them.

“They've repainted crosswalks and given us a pedestrian crossing pylon as a sign of good faith, but obviously that is not enough to prevent accidents,” Dillon said.

“So we again would like to see changes to the travel lanes. We'd love to see stop signs and possibly a bike lane to make travel safer for all types of travelers. Removing the rush hour lane is something that we felt would help all along.”

DDOT is considering getting rid of the rush hour parking restriction, effectively reducing Arkansas Avenue NW to one lane in each direction at all times. It is unclear when DDOT will issue its final recommendations.

Meantime Dillon, who has had eight surgeries and continues physical therapy, said she will continue to push the District to act.

“When all is said and done Arkansas Avenue should be a safe residential street that accommodates bikes, walkers, and drivers.”

Despite what happened she intends to stay in the neighborhood she loves.

“I am in no condition to move right now,” she laughed.

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