D.C. aims to speed up road safety projects after recent deaths The District Department of Transportation plans to complete 50 safety projects in the next six weeks, including installing speed humps, stop signs, and high visibility crosswalks.
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D.C. aims to speed up road safety projects after recent deaths

The District Department of Transportation plans to complete 50 safety projects in the next six weeks. Jacob Fenston/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Jacob Fenston/WAMU/DCist

Speed humps, stop signs, and high visibility crosswalks are among the safety measures D.C. transportation officials will be installing starting this week, after drivers caused numerous deaths and injuries on District streets in recent months. These incidents include the deaths of two young children, and injuries of two other children during "Walk to School Day."

The District Department of Transportation plans to complete 50 safety projects in the next six weeks, and 100 projects over the course of the year.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the new safety push today at an event near the Deanwood Recreation Center, where DDOT recently redesigned the intersection of 48th and Minnesota Ave. NE. They installed traffic calming measures, including large sidewalk bulb-outs that created shorter crosswalks and added a pedestrian island to slow down traffic. More speed tables have also been installed on 48th Street. Officials say the project was completed quickly — about a year for planning and construction.

Bowser says she is angry, as are many community members, with recent traffic deaths and injuries.

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"Anytime you drive over 25 mph you take a serious risk that someone could die if you hit them," Bowser said at the press event.

DDOT officials say a number of internal changes at the department will enable them to investigate and address dangerous intersections and streets more quickly. DDOT has added more engineers and contractors to its traffic safety investigation program, and plans to execute safety projects without multiple reviews and comment periods "when justified," according to a press release.

Several Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners say they're frustrated with the current "traffic safety assessment" process, which they say takes too long, even three to four months to investigate the issue, and then there's study, project development, and construction time. They also say DDOT often dismisses their proposals, like adding four-way stops or creating more speed bumps.

ANC 7C07 Commissioner Antawan Holmes told DCist/WAMU he's glad DDOT will work faster, but still wants community input. His area has 21 traffic safety assessments, including major issues on Sheriff Road, that have not been addressed.

"We have a lot of plans, we've had a lot of studies, and a lot of people got paid to write a lot of documents, we need some action to go along with it," Holmes said. " And I think that's where people are frustrated, you know, 10, 15, 20-plus years out of studies, and still no results."

As far as when he wants to see those projects done?

"If we're talking about speed, bumps, humps, tables, etc... I want them done as quick as they have asphalt," Holmes said. "I expect permits to be put up in all those locations this week for work next week. That's it. That's how easy it is."

Holmes says some of DDOT's projects are more effective than others: The new pedestrian median at 48th Street, for example, doesn't slow traffic, he says. He'd like to see a speed bump instead, as did another resident who told Bowser that people still speed down Minnesota Avenue.

Some people will, unfortunately, speed no matter what, Holmes says.

"At those speeds, you go flying through gates, bushes, everything else," he said. "I have residents who call me are concerned about cars going through their houses."

Zach Israel, ANC Commissioner for 4D04, recently tweeted a video of a high-speed crash at Farragut Street and Illinois Avenue NW that caused an SUV to roll twice onto a sidewalk. He says the intersection has been under review for improvements for years and "it should not have taken years to get to this point after many, many serious accidents," he tweeted. He also says DDOT needs to take a comprehensive approach for his neighborhoods instead of going intersection by intersection.

"I certainly welcome a new streamlined process to accelerate traffic safety projects in the District," Israel told DCist/WAMU. "The key is not just whether the process is faster — it needs to result in different outcomes which actually make our streets safer for all."

DDOT Director Everett Lott insisted at today's press conference that by cutting some of the comment periods and time it takes to complete a safety investigation, DDOT would be able to do these projects 40% quicker.

D.C. launched a Vision Zero program in 2015, with the goal of ending traffic deaths and major injuries by 2024. But it has so far been unsuccessful — instead of going down, traffic deaths have been on the rise every year but one since the program began. In September, the D.C. Auditor's office announced an investigation into Vision Zero, citing the rising number of deaths, and calls from cycling and pedestrian activists.

DDOT announced today it is reorganizing, moving Vision Zero into its project delivery administration, so that safety will be "incorporated holistically" into road projects. (The program's director, Linda Bailey, currently reports to DDOT's chief of external affairs, per a recent organization chart.) "DDOT will be able to increase the rate and speed of critical safety project delivery moving forward," reads the release.

Many residents have been critical of city leaders for slow progress making roads safe for pedestrians and cyclists, as the number of people killed by drivers continues to climb. Last year D.C. recorded 37 traffic deaths, the highest number in more than a decade. This year is on track to be even worse, with 3% more deaths than this time last year, according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department.

DDOT has made numerous changes in recent years aimed at curbing fatalities. These include reducing local streets speed limits to 20 mph, banning right turns on red lights at some intersections, and adding bike lanes.

This story has been updated with additional context from the press conference and interviews with ANC commissioners Antawan Holmes and Zach Israel.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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