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Tipping Point on Commuter Traffic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tommy Wells   
Friday, 27 April 2007
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Tipping Point on Commuter Traffic
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I attended the CHAMPS spring gathering at the 201 Lounge tonight and had an interesting conversation with Matt Weiss, the owner.  He asked how I was doing and I related my experience this week grappling with the tragic death of Crysta Spencer, a first-grader at JO Wilson Elementary school, who died after a hit and run at 6th and Orleans Place, NE.  Matt responded by saying he grew up here and did not recall ever before seeing such a strong reaction by the government, press and community after a child was hit by a car and killed in DC.  While I am not sure he is accurate, I am very aware of the deep anger and frustration I have felt and witnessed since the accident.

Most of us in DC, especially the residents of Ward 6, are getting angrier by the day at the cars and drivers speeding recklessly through our neighborhoods, without regard to pedestrians, runners and bicyclists.  I think we generally agree the suburban commuters are the worst offenders.  We also believe it is time to act, to take aggressive steps to calm things down.  I applaud the new Pace Car program where local citizens have pledged to strictly adhere to the speed limit to slow cars down behind them.

Personally, I can be impulsive.  I demanded stop signs and speed bumps at the location of Crysta’s accident within 24 hours, and the Mayor agreed to erect them.  What I didn’t anticipate was that drivers, frustrated by the dramatically slowed traffic, would spill onto surrounding neighborhood streets that were much narrower and even more dangerous for children and other pedestrians.  While speed bumps and stop signs are a major part of the solution, we will have to be careful that efforts to control reckless driving on our main arteries do not increase traffic throughout our neighborhoods.  Firm, reliable enforcement of our traffic laws is also a key part of the answer.

I will continue to work aggressively on a strategy to create livable and safe walkable communities, especially in Ward 6.  I applaud the speed bumps around Lincoln Park.  I am happy to see the new stop light at 8th and E, SE, but we have so much more to do.  I will invite community input.  I have asked the Mayor’s staff to expedite implementation all new traffic calming plans developed over the last year, including keeping Constitution Avenue NE two-way, all day.  I believe our response to Crysta’s death shows we have a tipping point and we will no longer tolerate unsafe conditions on our streets.


Links to recent media coverage:


The Washington Post

Fox 5 


Readers have left 11 comments.
(1) Untitled
2007-04-30 11:57:58
Don't forget traffic in the AM coming off C St./North Carolina NE. Commuters on their cell phones seem to think C St. NE is part of the highway
Written by Guest User ()
(2) Untitled
2007-04-30 20:44:01
My children attend Two Rivers public charter school, which I guess is the closest school to the accident, being at 4th and Florida. The same risks are clearly present on 4th St., where the children are coming in and out of the school. I live on C St. NE, which is heavily trafficked during morning rush hour. But in front of my house the drivers seem mostly well-behaved. I suspect the danger is greatest right where major traffic routes enter residential areas, such as at 4th and 6th just south of Florida.

Here's what I think is a major issue, which I hope you will pursue forcefully: the perspective this brings to the new plans for developing the area, such as a new Massachusetts Ave. bridge.

There is a real tension in central neighborhoods between making them pleasant and safe to live in and making them easy to drive through. Stop signs make them safer. Traffic lights make them more convenient. Going south on the Brentwood parkway as it turns into Sixth St., then crossing Florida, it's easy to imagine how that driver found it natural to go fast—downhill, with conveniently timed traffic lights. But crossing Florida, one suddenly hits a residential neighborhood. The drivers do not adapt fast enough.

It's time for DDOT to get its priorities straight, which means making DC a safe and pleasant place to live is more important than making it a convenient place to drive through on the way to work for people who live in Maryland and Virginia and don’t pay taxes and vote here. How are we going to increase the city's population if we prioritize making it a convenient place to drive through rather than a safe place to live in? If this were DDOT's priority now, there would already have been a stop sign and speed bump where Crysta was killed. That there were not shows that the people who designed that street (and it was designed--not just an accident) had other priorities.

DDOT is talking about putting a Massachusetts Ave. bridge over the Anacostia, and other changes in the area that will facilitate traffic. Surely that will lead to more drivers speeding through the neighborhood, more opportunities to collide with local children.

DDOT may argue that it helps residents to have traffic moving through their neighborhoods smoothly and quickly rather than having it be congested. But the decades have shown that old argument is flawed. The more traffic capacity you create, the more comes to fill it. DDOT seems to be ignoring that history.

Fundamentally, the problem may be the "T" in DDOT. Constitutionally, they're focussed on improving transportation for those transporting. So they tend to view people like Crysta as secondary. Maybe they need to be renamed and redefinied. Last Monday the interests of those transporting collided with the interests of those walking and transportation won. --David
(3) Untitled
2007-05-01 14:26:33
I am so sorry to hear about Crysta Spencer, so young a life cut short for no reason. Unfortunately, government is reactive, instead of proactive. But I commend you Tommy for making traffic safety one of your top priorities from day one during your campaign. I hope we as community can ensure Crysta’s death is not just another tragedy, but the impetus to make real positive changes to ensure this does not happen again.

To be honest with you, those motorist who pass through our neighborhoods commit more crimes daily, (excessive speeding, using mobile phones while driving, running red-lights & stop-signs, disregarding pedestrian crossings, etc.) then the few folks who commit other "traditional" crimes in our neighborhoods (drug dealing, violent assaults, auto theft, petty theft, etc.). In my opinion, commuter & commercial traffic, which is the bulk of the daily traffic volume, negatively affects Ward 6 resident’s safety and quality-of-life like no other issue facing us today. Also consider the added pollutants, maintenance cost of our streets, etc.

Thank you for keeping your promise and continuing to make Ward 6 a gleaming example of what urban living can provide, "a livable, walkable community". We look forward to continuing to work with you on this important safety and quality-of-life issue; please let us know how we can help.

Ken Granata
RCA President
Written by Ken Granata ()
(4) Untitled
2007-05-02 09:16:16
I have been lobbying for either a light or a stop sign at 12th and Independence SE for years. I cannot count how many accidents have happened there. If the lights are green from 7th St the traffic flies down Independence. Please help!
Written by Guest User ()
(5) Untitled
2007-05-17 18:08:51
I agree with an earlier entry that DC should make the safety of neighborhood residents who walk a priority over commuter convenience. Here in SW, we have a lot of commuter traffic making left hand turns. Especially in the am rush, communters don't want to stop for pedestrians trying to cross at 3rd and Eye, 4th and G, 7th and G, and 4th and P. Only, 4th and Eye is safe to cross on foot because traffic lights stop cars in all directions to give the pedestrians time to cross with no competion with cars. If motorists in a hurry can't be convinced to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, we need more 4 way stop lights. When pedestrians and car share heavily used intersections, more effort should be made to protect pedestrians. In SW many intersections aren't even marked with crosswalks---that's a pretty basic problem DC should fix for the residents of SW.
Written by Guest User ()
(6) Untitled
2007-07-11 15:03:52
I'm pessimistic that traffic calming measures serve any deterence effect. There needs to be a greater will to enforce the many traffic violations which routinely go unpunished. Red light/stop sign running, failure to yield to pedestrians, blocking the box, speeding . . . all with minimal police presence to enforce routine traffic violations. It's scary as a pedestrian, where you're mostly on your own dealing with the wolves. I hate the idea of big brother government, but I wholeheartedly support traffic cameras to at least hit chronic violators in their wallets.
(7) Untitled
2007-07-16 12:10:00
I am a student at Gallaudet University and I frequently park in the 6th Street Lot on campus so I drive up 6th Street frequently. I have noticed the stop sign that was posted where Crysta was killed, as well as the very sharp speed bumps that are there. I didn't know what accident had prompted those to be erected but now I do, and I thank you for posting them. What puzzles me is that until just a week ago there were two light poles that were covered with stuffed animals there. One on each side of the street. The animals were wrapped in plastic to protect them from the weather. I had wondered what child had died and now I know it was Crysta Spencer. But I don't understand why the animals were taken away within the past week. Was this a prank by somebody who didn't know Crysta's family? Or did Crysta's family decide to take them down? Do you have any information on what happened to the stuffed animal memorials at the location where Crysta was killed?
(8) Untitled
2007-07-16 12:15:27
I'm not aware of the specifics of why the stuffed animals were taken down, but typically, the family is involved whenever that happens. When other similar tragic events have occurred in the Ward, I know that the police and other DC agencies work with the family to keep the tributes and memorials up and protected, but also move them at an appropriate time so the family can keep them and they don't get overexposed to the elements.
Written by Charles Allen (Super Administrator)
(9) Untitled
2007-09-17 15:09:11
While we're on the topic of dangerous intersections and fixing problems, is there any chance that a major solution could be considered for the intersection of 7th, D, and Maryland Ave., NE? It is dangerous for vehicles and pedestrians alike.

Thankfully, traffic on Maryland has diminished considerably since the Capitol complex restrictions, but anyone trying to enter onto Maryland from one-way southbound Seventh Street (the north side of the intersection) in a car is typically taking their life in their hands, especially when an SUV or truck parks at the end of the block.

Similarly, regardless of how many fluorescent yellow signs DDOT erects touting "Stop for Pedestrians: DC LAW", there's simply NO GOOD WAY to cross Maryland Avenue on foot. Absolutely no motorists have ever stopped for me, even when I am IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD in the crosswalk, between median and curb. That includes Metrobuses, taxis, personal vehicles, and even police cars (not responding to an emergency). It's one of the worst intersections on the Hill. With its proximity to the Northeast Library, this area is the nexus for much activity, especially for parents of young children.

The other that comes to mind is the intersection of 3rd Street, D Street, and Massachusetts Ave., NE. Despite having a signalized crosswalk, it is very dangerous to cross Massachusetts to the north side of D Street. The crosswalk is on a diagonal from the curb adjacent to Armand's to the corner adjacent to the pocket park in front of the small row of retail shops (sushi, hairdressers, etc.). The problem is that vehicles turning left from one-way northbound 3rd Street onto Massachusetts Avenue (heading west) are supposed to stop at a red light after making the turn, similar to the stop that vehicles are supposed to make when turning to any side street from Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. But cars routinely continue through this huge intersection after making the turn, right through the crosswalk flashing "WALK." Frequently, matters are made worse by the fact that tour buses, delivery vehicles and others often park along the curb just before or right through the crosswalk, rendering the prospects of crossing even more precarious.

It would seem that the solution to these two and many other DC intersections would be to STOP ALL TRAFFIC in the intersection to give pedestrians the chance to cross. It would be a PR challenge initially, but like everything else, people would get used to it and build it into their commuting time. At least one can dream.
Written by Guest User ()
(10) Untitled
2008-08-21 22:58:41
The second comment from the top said this:

"DDOT may argue that it helps residents to have traffic moving through their neighborhoods smoothly and quickly rather than having it be congested. But the decades have shown that old argument is flawed. The more traffic capacity you create, the more comes to fill it. DDOT seems to be ignoring that history."

That is right.

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