Hill’s Pedestrians Express Safety Concerns

Posted March 9, 2007 at 5:53pm

In the past few weeks, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner David Holmes has seen cars speed between a mother and her following toddler, cut off a handicapped pedestrian and largely ignore trembling herds of walking commuters.

“It’s gotten worse,” Holmes said, adding that he frequently gets complaints about pedestrian safety from his Capitol Hill constituents. “I get these e-mails every week now. For someone to take the trouble, it had to be a pretty outrageous incident.”

Holmes has lived for 10 years on the Hill, which is often described as a walking village where more residents are seen on foot than in cars. But in the past few years, more people have moved into the area and, according to Holmes, more Maryland commuters cut through neighborhood streets. Together, that makes for more accidents, or at least close calls.

“They come barreling in, and the Capitol is just in their way,” he said. “There are very few roads that are designed to carry high-speed travelers.”

Several high-profile accidents this winter have made pedestrians throughout D.C. wary, including one where a Metro bus ran over and killed two women at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest — an intersection, in the same police district as Capitol Hill, that officials also have deemed the second-worst in D.C. Now residents have expressed concern that other intersections in their neighborhoods encourage speeding cars because of awkward characteristics: a soft right turn, the clashing of three streets, extra long crosswalks. And they’ve asked Metropolitan Police Department 1st district Commander Diane Groomes to do something about it.

“A lot of the time traffic gets ignored,” Groomes admitted. “It’s definitely been brought to the forefront.”

In the three weeks since residents came to Groomes, officers have issued 214 tickets for violations such as jaywalking and running a crosswalk in Police Service Area 107, located in the Southeast corner of the 1st district. Groomes also has focused some of her officers on the Seventh and Ninth street Northwest corridor.

Residents also have begun looking at traffic calming on their own. ANC Commissioner Bill Schultheiss, who also is a traffic planner, gave a presentation this past fall on how to alleviate some problems on intersections such as Maryland Avenue and 10th Street Northeast. His ideas focus on construction, such as extending curbs to increase pedestrian visibility, installing speed bumps to slow cars down and raising the crosswalk for better leverage. And in at least one area — the 1300 block of G Street Northeast — residents are putting together a petition asking the District Department of Transportation to look at using such traffic-calming measures in their area.

The effort reflects an increasing problem of oblivious drivers and scared pedestrians, Schultheiss said. But he also said Capitol Hill is still largely pedestrian-friendly.

“In the big picture, it’s not bad. I’ve lived there for seven years. It’s a great place to walk around as a pedestrian,” he said. “The only complaint is people speeding and cutting through the neighborhood, and the lack of awareness.”

Although many residents point to outside commuters as the problem, Schultheiss said it’s more likely that the culprits are residents themselves. The rash of development on the Hill has attracted middle-class residents who have cars, he said.

“There’s just more cars so now there’s more traffic,” he said. “Typically it’s not the guy from Maryland cutting through the neighborhood, it’s the guy on Potomac [Avenue].”

Whoever it is, fixing the problem means a mixture of police enforcement and street planning, said George Branyan, coordinator for pedestrian programs at DDOT. Enforcing speed limits can save lives. If pedestrians are hit by a car going 40 mph, there is an 80 percent chance they will die; if hit at 25 mph, that statistic changes to an 80 percent chance of survival.

But the makeup of a road also can slow down drivers, and the city has focused on that problem for only the past two years, Branyan said.

“It’s going to take time,” he said. “It’s a culture shift. We’re an Eastern city, and we drive like it.”

DDOT already is working with Toole Design Group on a citywide plan to make the streets safer and more convenient for pedestrians, but it will take time. A map of all the pedestrian crashes in D.C. from 2000 to 2006 shows that the 1st district claims a fair amount of all the crashes and pedestrian fatalities in the city. Capitol Hill also got its own traffic study this past fall, which recommended everything from stop signs to complete makeovers for many intersections and roads.

With all the development going on in Ward 6, residents can expect more traffic improvements, said Chris Delfs, the Ward 6 transportation planner.

“When development comes in, that’s when we have an opportunity to say, ‘OK, we need this to be top caliber,” he said. “Because there’s so much private investment in Ward 6, we do have a lot more opportunity to guide that.”