Here are the written remarks delivered by Councilmember Allen (Chair of Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which includes oversight of the Metropolitan Police Department, which enforces moving violations) at the opening of the hearing on Vision Zero he co-chaired with Councilmember Mary Cheh (Committee on Transportation and the Environment, which has oversight of the District Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works, which enforces parking).
Opening Statement of Councilmember Charles Allen, Public Roundtable on Implementation of the Vision Zero Initiative and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016, September 27, 2018.
Just one week ago, in DuPont Circle, an SUV driver ran over and trapped a scooter rider under the SUV, killing the scooter rider. On Monday, a reckless car driver speed through a red light and killed a bicycle rider right around the corner from this room at 12th and Constitution, NW. These tragedies are a serious reminder that when it comes to improved traffic safety and importance, human lives are very much at stake.
These two cases are, unfortunately, only the latest examples of a problem that has long troubled the District. But let’s remember that this roundtable was not called because of those tragedies. Councilmember Cheh and I scheduled this long ago, because, unfortunately, bicyclists and pedestrians being killed is a tragically regular occurrence. And more than anything, let’s remember that the common element of all of the tragedies that we’ll hear about today are drivers of cars unwilling to slow their travel to ensure the safety of those around them.
In just the first week of this school year there were at least 4 incidents of vehicles striking DC elementary school students:
- On August 21 or 22, a Metro bus hit a childcare provider and a student near Lafayette Elementary in Ward 4
- On August 27, a car driver hit a 6-year-old in the 2300 block of Alabama Ave. in Ward 8
- The next day, a car driver hit another Stanton Elementary School student and a grandmother in the 2400 block of Alabama Ave
- Also on August 28, a vehicle driver struck a 4th grader near Simon Elementary, also in Ward 8
My office receives calls, emails, and tweets daily from my Ward 6 neighbors reporting near-misses at any number of intersections, blocked bike or street lanes. A running thread on twitter shows the bike lane at 4th St., NE is blocked every morning and every afternoon – so regular that drivers blocking the lanes dismiss cyclists and ask them, “So what?” A few months ago, we started to keep a spreadsheet of intersections that constituents have repeatedly identified as the most dangerous. We’ve identified dozens and dozens – and I know there are many more. The calls and emails always end with the same question that I’m going to ask everyone today, but especially the government witnesses: where is the urgency to fix dangerous intersections and curbing dangerous driving before someone is killed—or in some instances, before someone else is killed?
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016 and the recent updates the Council passed, with Councilmember Cheh’s leadership, were a huge leap forward. Especially important in that act was the requirement to collect and post data. But while preparing my opening statement, I went to dcvisionzero.com, and clicked on the maps and data link. There I found an interesting collection of data, but nothing more recent than 2014. A self-identified “techie” recently emailed me much more current data that he was able to scrape from opendata.dc.gov. But for the layperson, the spreadsheet from OpenData is nearly indecipherable. DDOT should be presenting up-to-date, easy to find data for all DC residents showing progress toward Vision Zero. Frankly, right now, no one believes Vision Zero is a serious undertaking. And, just for the record, the data I received from that good Samaritan techie showed that in 2018 DPW is giving tickets for blocking bike lanes at about half the rate that it did in 2015. I expect to hear more useful data like that from public witnesses during today’s hearing. It would be wonderful if the District government took the lead in this area.
While I know there are many individuals in the government dedicated to Vision Zero, and that many witnesses today will point to tangible progress, we are not living in a Vision Zero world – we aren’t even trending in the right direction. We’re not anywhere close. We’ve been talking about a dedicated bike lane downtown for years with no action. We’ve waited for years to make intersections four-way stops. That’s not Vision Zero.
As we’ll see, MPD does not have a dedicated traffic enforcement unit to crack down on reckless and dangerous driving that happens everyday, events that traffic cameras can’t catch. DDOT has presented projects full of great ideas to calm traffic on dangerous streets, and I believe in the expertise of the folks in the department. But those projects have moved excruciatingly slowly.
- In Ward 6, I’ve heard promises over and over that the Maryland Ave project is about to start. Before recess I heard there was a good possibility of shovels in the ground by the end of the year. Now I hear that maybe an RFP will be out by the end of the year, and we’ll see those shovels 6 to 9 months later. I feel like there’s no point in even asking about Florida Avenue these days.
- Starting at RFK stadium and moving west, C Street NE in Ward 7 and into Ward 6 is really just an extension of 295 through neighborhood streets, despite there currently being three schools within two blocks, not to mention hundreds of family homes. During very brief traffic enforcement on that stretch by MPD, 41% of drivers pulled over were going 26 mph over the speed limit or higher! In February we saw forward-thinking designs to calm that stretch of C Street traffic down. Then in April my neighbors and I saw DDOT backtrack on many of the traffic calming aspects of that project, only to retreat when neighbors and I expressed outrage.
- And just so that my comments aren’t limited to Ward 6: in a post on Greater Greater Washington, a DDOT spokesperson is quoted as saying “there are no immediate plans to move forward other recommendations from the Alabama Avenue Corridor Safety Study,” outside of a high visibility crosswalk, striping, and some bus stop location changes. You’ll remember Alabama Avenue as the street in Ward 8 where, on consecutive school days, cars struck two elementary school students and a grandmother.
I know we’ll hear today about the smaller traffic calming measures that DDOT is undertaking—projects that can be done quickly and have good results. But even those small projects can drag on far too long, for example:
- It took years to get a new stop sign at 10th and Massachusetts
- It took years of work to install a mid-block crosswalk on the 400 block of K St. NW, one of the most pedestrian-heavy neighborhoods in the city.
All of this shows me that we have much work to do to reach the goals of Vision Zero. I hope we can leave this roundtable today with a clearer understanding of how to achieve that vision, or at the very least, a greater sense of urgency that this is a major concern for our residents and a serious safety issue.