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New Goal Set For D.C.: Totally Eliminate Pedestrian Deaths

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Ten pedestrians were killed in D.C. in 2010 — the goal is to get that number to zero.
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Ten pedestrians were killed in D.C. in 2010 — the goal is to get that number to zero.

The Bowser administration is adopting Vision Zero, a program embraced by six other U.S. cities to date designed to eliminate all traffic fatalities.

A formal announcement is expected in the next couple weeks, an administration spokesman said, and the mayor declined to speculate on specific aspects of the program’s implementation in brief remarks with WAMU 88.5 on Monday.

“We haven’t gotten into the details of it. We want to make sure we have a thoughtful program put together, and we were all just saddened by a pedestrian death we had recently in our city,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser, referring to the death of Philip Snodgrass, a 27-year-old attorney, who was killed when a driver who may have been under the influence of drugs drove his SUV onto a sidewalk in downtown D.C.

Design changes part of the equation

Snodgrass was the first pedestrian killed in Washington in 2015. Ten pedestrians were killed in D.C. in 2014, according to the Metropolitan Police Department, two fewer than the previous year. A recent national report by the Governors Highway Safety Association said the number of pedestrians killed in the U.S. last year was relatively unchanged from 2013 and approximately 15 percent higher than it was in 2009.

When pressed for details, Mayor Bowser said the District would explore the redesign of streets, among other issues.

“We want to focus on the engineering of our roadways and facilities. We want to focus on enforcement efforts, and on education efforts. That is how you get streets safer, the three E’s,” she said.

Bowser said it is unlikely the District would lower speed limits beneath the current 25 mph limit in residential neighborhoods.

Last October, the District Department of Transportation issued its final strategic highway safety plan (pdf) to comply with federal standards laid out in President Obama’s MAP-21 legislation. The 180-page document’s purpose is to “update the District’s key safety needs and guide investment decisions to achieve further reductions in traffic crashes and their severity ― for all users of the District’s transportation system.”

Safety advocates applauded the administration’s move to embrace Vision Zero’s goals.

“What we want is the mayor to set a time frame as to when we can get to zero deaths,” said Jacob Mason, a member of the pedestrian rights group All Walks D.C.

Mason said the District must take a serious look at reducing the number of lanes on its most dangerous streets to slow down traffic, but needs better data to assess which streets are the worst.

“When we design our streets to move cars quickly, they are more likely to result in injury or death,” Mason said. “We know how many people are killed on the streets year, but we don't know exactly where. And we don’t know how many people are injured and at which locations.”

Advocates: everything should be on the table

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association also emphasized the importance of the program's implementation if the goal of zero deaths is to be achieved. The group’s director, Shane Farthing, said all safety improvements should be on the table, including banning right turns on red lights.

“We need to look at speeds. We need to look at design, responses to crashes, enforcement and behaviors that would prevent distracted driving,” Farthing said.

Farthing stressed Vision Zero is not about regulation of one mode of travel versus another, but instead determining what causes crashes in the first place, especially at the District’s largest, most complex intersections.

“A big part of Vision Zero is not blaming the people who are making mistakes that lead to crashes, but recognizing limitations of the human mind to process all of the complexity of the urban environment and designing that environment so it is simpler and safer.” Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco and New York have adopted Vision Zero.

New York began the program in early 2014. A new report by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives found that New York police are increasing their ticketing of drivers for the most serious violations, but the program's effectiveness is being compromised by inconsistent enforcement from precinct to precinct.

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