February 18, 2022 | Press Release

Councilmember Nadeau Introduces Two Bills to Improve Traffic Safety and Street Design

February 18, 2022

Today, I'm proud to introduce the "Speed Management on Arterials (SMART) Signage Amendment Act of 2022" and the "Prioritizing People in Planning Amendment Act of 2022," two bills that continue to advance our work on eliminating traffic violence and deaths on our streets. They serve to complement recent introductions, the "Walk Without Worry Amendment Act of 2021," which I introduced last year, and bills I enthusiastically co-introduced with colleagues: the "Safe Routes to School Expansion Regulation Amendment Act of 2021," introduced by Councilmember Lewis George, the "Upgrading Tactical Safety Projects Amendment Act of 2022," and the "Safer Intersections Amendment Act of 2022," both introduced by Councilmember Mary Cheh. Summaries and full bill texts are below. 

Speed Management on Arterials (SMART) Signage Amendment Act 

The SMART Signage Amendment Act will contribute to the District’s mission to reduce and ultimately eliminate major injuries and fatal crashes on our arterial streets – which constitute less than a quarter of our roadways but account for close to 70 percent of pedestrians struck by vehicles. 

The SMART Signage Amendment Act of 2022 sets the standard speed limit on major and minor arterial roads at 25 miles per hour, and requires the District Department of Transportation (“DDOT”) to implement three changes to posted signage:

  1. Speed limit signs on arterials must be posted at a frequency no fewer than 4 per mile;
  2. New, clearer signage must be developed notifying corridors and locations where automated traffic enforcement (such as speed cameras) are in effect, and;
  3. Major entryways to DC from neighboring states must have new signage alerting drivers to traffic safety laws.

Currently, arterial speed limits are inconsistent and often inequitable; they can range from 35 mph on New York Avenue, NE, to 30 mph on Georgia Avenue, NW, to 25 mph on minor arterials like Foxhall Road, NW.

Simply put, we should not be allowing for speeds on arterials that pose a serious risk to pedestrians, especially when a vehicle must be traveling at 11 miles over the posted limit to be issued a speed camera citation. That means on a street like New York Avenue, a vehicle can be going 45 miles per hour before getting cited, a speed at which a pedestrian will only have a 50 percent chance of surviving if struck. In fact, lowering arterial speed limits to 25 mph was a goal in the original DC Vision Zero Action Plan.

While posting more speed limit signs is no substitute for a redesigned street, controlled studies have shown that simply increasing the frequency of signage can have significant effects: a 22% reduction in crashes, and a 54% reduction in drivers going >20 mph over the limit.

The same goes for automated traffic enforcement notification. I imagine many drivers never take notice of the small “photo enforced” signs occasionally posted throughout the District. The goal of our automated enforcement program is to reduce dangerous driving, not simply to issue fines, and if a driver does not get a ticket because they were made aware of a camera, that should be considered a success.

Finally, on almost all major entryways to the District, there is very little guidance given on DC’s traffic safety laws. This is especially concerning given how many out-of-state drivers come to and through DC every day. If we are passing best practice traffic safety laws, it makes little difference if a significant number of drivers are never made aware of them.


Prioritizing People in Planning Amendment Act

The Prioritizing People in Planning Amendment Act of 2022 eliminates the outdated “level of service” metric developed to assess roadways and intersections, and requires the DDOT to develop alternative metrics that better reflect DC’s climate goals and the way our residents already use our streets and sidewalks.

Vehicle level of service, or LOS, grades streets and intersections from A to F depending on their traffic flow. LOS was designed in the 1950s and 1960s, an era of significant highway expansion – expansion that was often at the expense of communities were seen as in the way of those highways.

Because the current conception of LOS is such a one-dimensional metric – only looking at queueing and speed of vehicles – it favors projects that widen roads. Pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders are quite literally invisible in a traditional level of service model. 

In lieu of level of service, this legislation directs DDOT to develop a series of alternative measures that are more context appropriate: measuring the total number of people a street can move, or the potential of a project to increase vehicle miles traveled and contribute to overall congestion and carbon emissions.

While it may appear to be a minor change to an engineering concept, phasing out LOS will have significant positive ripple effects on the types of projects that get designed and approved in DC. Just as LOS has quietly put a thumb on the scale in favor of more roads and highways for almost a century, we can do the same for streets that are safer, greener, and better at moving (and gathering) people.