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Three Months Late, D.C.'s Plan To End Traffic Fatalities Is Coming Next Week

Bowser's Vision Zero recommendations are ready, official says

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Updated 7:45 a.m., Dec. 9

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser next week will unveil the District’s plan, known as Vision Zero, to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024, according to her top transportation official.

The news comes as safety advocates are publicly expressing impatience with a three-month delay in the plan’s release. Bowser promised to make Washington a Vision Zero city during her campaign last year.

“It will reflect actions that can be taken across a range of different disciplines within the District government, and it calls for a tremendous amount of public engagement,” said Leif Dormsjo, the director of the District Department of Transportation, in testimony before the D.C. Council’s transportation committee Tuesday.

“With that initiative — with that action plan as our blueprint — we intend to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries within 10 years,” Dormsjo said.

The action plan, which DDOT had said would be ready in September, will include 68 recommendations for the next two years. An exact date for the plan’s rollout was not announced. Officials said a news conference might be held Dec. 15.

New regulations also coming

DDOT is not waiting until next week to start making changes. On Friday, new traffic regulations will be proposed that are designed to protect the most vulnerable on the roads, particularly pedestrians, senior citizens, and the disabled.

Fines for 20 moving violations will increase significantly. For instance, the fine for driving at least 25 miles per hour over the speed limit will increase from $300 to $1,000. Striking a bicyclist will be penalized $500 instead of the current $50. And eight moving violations that presently involve no fines are on the new list, including failure to slow down when approaching first responders at a crash scene ($500) and failure to yield to a bus re-entering traffic ($500).

The new regulations will create safe zones with lower speed limits: 25 miles per hour along arterial roads, 20 mph on “neighborhood streets,” and 15 mph in school zones and other locations.

Also, drivers “involved in a crash that causes no injury and does not immobilize the vehicle must quickly move” out of the travel lane, according to a copy of the new regulations obtained by WAMU 88.5 in advance of the official release.

These measures are designed to jump start the District’s Vision Zero efforts after years of progress reducing traffic fatalities, Dormsjo said.

“From 2010 to 2014, 64 people in a motor vehicle, 57 people walking, and 7 people biking died in traffic crashes,” he said. “While we have been successful in bringing down overall fatalities, we nonetheless have a low but persistent number of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. ... These numbers are unacceptable.”

In 1995, 62 people died in crashes in Washington. In 2014, the figure had fallen to 26.

Speed limits, enforcement debated

Dormsjo’s testimony ended a five-hour hearing during which four new proposals on traffic safety were discussed. The bills make up the legislative components of the District’s Vision Zero effort.

The bills included a bicycle and pedestrian safety act, tougher penalties for distracted driving, a proposal requiring drivers to yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles, and a Vision Zero bill barring and the sale and use of all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes and establishing an ignition interlock program for people convicted of drunk driving.

None of the legislative proposals deal with speed limits, which will remain in the purview of DDOT. But a group of pedestrian and bicycle safety advocates testified about the need for lower speeds throughout the city.

“In D.C. our default speed limits are 25 miles per hour, but because the citations don’t begin until 11 miles per hour over that, people can drive at 35 miles per hour on residential streets with no penalty,” said Moira McCauley, a member of the pedestrian safety group All Walks DC.

The District already has 300 speed cameras, and while DDOT is not opposed to lowering speed limits further, Dormsjo said his agency would take a targeted approach instead of implementing across-the-board reductions.

“The rules we are introducing later on this week will reflect that type of focus, a focus on neighborhood areas, a focus on school districts,” Dormsjo said in an interview.

Human face on the grim statistics

Legislators also heard from members of the public whose lives have changed for the worse.

Christina Quinn, 29, recalled the death of her father, the former Navy SEAL Tim Holden, who was killed while riding his bike on Massachusetts Avenue near the Bethesda-D.C. line in August.

“Following the investigation the driver who struck and killed my father was cited for three traffic related offenses and ordered to pay $690 in fines. He still has his license and the ability to drive,” Quinn said.

Holden, 64, was run over from behind and pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, Ricardo Freeman, 22, was investigated for falling asleep at the wheel but was not charged with that offense.

“On this particular stretch of road the de facto bicycle lane is merely the shoulder of the road with little in the way of signs or barriers to indicate it is a safe space for cyclists to share the roads with motorists,” a distraught Quinn testified.

She spoke in favor of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015, which would require the District compile comprehensive crash data that will drive decisions about where to improve biking and walking infrastructure.

Due to a reporting error, the original version of this post inaccurately said that Ricardo Freeman had fallen asleep at the wheel, killing Christina Quinn's father. Freeman was investigated for falling asleep at the wheel, but not charged. Also, the new traffic regulations will be proposed, not enacted, on Friday. The story has been corrected.

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