Pedestrian Safety Issues in Ward 1
I offer my deepest condolences today to the friends and family of Nina Larson. There are no words that can do justice to how tragic it is to lose a young person so senselessly. But there are actions that we can take as government leaders to ensure that her death was not in vain.
I want to thank our Ward 1 ANC Commissioners who sent a letter to DC Government officials calling for specific changes to improve safety in Adams Morgan. We have walked these streets together and ID'd the issues for DDOT repeatedly.
I have tried to lead on pedestrian safety issues in Ward 1 and across the District; I know that our residents want action, not words. So I’ll share my plans, some basic and some bold.
Like the sites of nearly all the 37 deaths on our roads this year, the danger of Columbia & Biltmore has been known for a long time. Immediately, I'm asking for flexpost daylighting of all the crosswalks on Columbia, and for a speed camera to be installed on the 1800 block.
We also need to get serious about installing raised crosswalks, improving our immediate crash response, pedestrianizing 18th Street, and reimagining Columbia Road.
I plan to introduce legislation that will make DC a national leader in raised crosswalks, continuous sidewalks, and raised intersections. This has been in the works over the past few months as I’ve reflected on this year's crashes, especially those involving children and close to schools. In many places, level crossings for pedestrians are a no-brainer; they should be in DC too. It indicates that vehicles are crossing through a pedestrian space rather than vice-versa. I’ve noticed that in DC we occasionally install raised crosswalks, but only one-offs: in big capital projects, private developments, or where a community has capacity to advocate for one. Instead, they should be part of our standard toolkit, similar to how we treat ADA curb ramps.
Next, our crash response - I understand frustration with how the aftermath of a fatal crash is dealt with. A death may feel swept under the rug, and immediate fixes can take too long if they’re promised at all. DC’s Vision Zero crash investigations must be robust and publicly accessible. In addition to accelerating short-term fixes at these sites, other similar locations should be identified and installed as soon as possible so our roads don’t end up like a series of band-aids.
Seeing how many memorials have been destroyed in subsequent crashes not long after installation, it's clear the impact of a crash isn't being felt, both by passers-by & by government. I take seriously the idea of temporarily closing a block where a fatal crash occurs. DC streets are closed off for construction and for events all the time (including one on Columbia Road just last weekend); it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we might do the same in the name of road safety.
I also remain fully supportive of a pedestrian zone on 18th Street. Council approved $2 million for the Office of Planning’s Streets for People program, which aims to activate spaces across DC, including 18th Street. I’ve talked to officials and staff across the country in cities that have pedestrianized streets who all say 18th is a perfect candidate.
One clear problem with closures are intensive liability precautions. NYC still has a thriving open streets program, while DC’s slow streets were dismantled months ago. Here you can see the difference between how NYC closes a street (left) and how DC closes a street (right):
We are about to start a planning process for Columbia Road between 16th and Connecticut. This is part of the recently approved expansion of the bus priority program, which will also look closely at addressing pedestrian and bike safety.
ANC1C approved a strong resolution last year acknowledging that losing street parking may be a necessary tradeoff in improving Columbia Road for everyone, and I agree. MoveDC marks Columbia Road as bus, bike, and freight priority, which means something must give.
If you spend time on Columbia Road you probably know a familiar pattern: all it takes is approximately 20 cars to cause a multi-block backup and slow buses to a halt, while over 20 people may be using a crosswalk in a single light cycle. Other times, reckless driving is a constant concern. I plan to be closely involved in the Columbia Road project, including engagement with constituents and organizations beyond the typical outreach. I’ve said this to the Director of DDOT before: my biggest concern with Columbia Road would be not being ambitious enough.
Final point for now: I support Councilmembers Henderson and Cheh’s work to shed light on and improve our enforcement and booting. When we see tags with dozens of tickets, we need to act more quickly.