D.C. officers will target traffic safety around school zones. Some say it's not enough A police officer in each of the seven police districts will ticket and educate drivers in school zones.
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D.C. officers will target traffic safety around school zones. Some say it's not enough

A speed limit sign in a school zone in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Jacob Fenston/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Jacob Fenston/WAMU/DCist

D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department will dispatch officers to school zones throughout the District in hope of improving drivers' behavior when they are near kids.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, MPD Chief Robert Contee, and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee made the announcement Monday at Van Ness Elementary in Navy Yard. Bowser says the idea is to help make the streets safer for all.

"Driving is a privilege," Bowser said. "These cars are thousands of pounds; when they get moving, they're deadly weapons, so we have to treat them like that.

"And that is why it is so important for us to get to engage (MPD) in even a more systematic and targeted way of looking at where we have a lot of our little folks moving around going to school and making sure that they are safe."

The targeted traffic safety campaign will involve seven officers, one in each of the police precincts, going to different school zones three hours before and after school to ticket and educate drivers. The officers will mainly focus on distracted driving, speeding, stop sign violations, and pedestrian violations. Other school resource officers will be tasked with handing out traffic safety literature to remind drivers to slow down and follow the rules of the road. MPD will also use message board signs to show safety messages at schools across the District.

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The District has 240 public and charter schools. Contee said the decision to dispatch officers was made after reviewing crash and other data in the areas surrounding schools, and also stemmed from resident complaints.

"We have heard from the community and they want to see our streets safer for all of us who use D.C.'s roadways," Contee said at Monday's press conference.

The initiative comes as two children were killed and at least two others seriously injured by drivers in recent months.

D.C. has 38 traffic fatalities this year, a 13-year-high, despite the goal of zero deaths and serious injuries by 2024. The District adopted the Vision Zero approach in 2015, and it contends that all traffic deaths are preventable with the right mix of safe road engineering, driver education, and traffic law enforcement.

Bowser did note that her initiative would mean more police interactions, but that if you follow the traffic laws, you won't have to worry about being pulled over.

"Stop speeding on our streets, stop running stop signs on our streets, stop running red lights, stop driving aggressively, stop using your phone, stop texting," she said.

Several safety advocates lamented that seven officers serving 240 school zones is not enough to make a considerable difference in driver behavior. They also noted the lack of traffic calming solutions, like curb bump-outs at intersections, speed bumps, or raised crosswalks that would force drivers to slow down.

Jessica Hart, whose five-year-old daughter Allie was killed by a driver in a crosswalk in October tweeted, "I'm...speechless. What about government's responsibility to install infrastructure that makes it harder for drivers to do these things? What about enforcing consequences for these violations? What about a holistic look at mobility in this city & creative solution?"

DCist/WAMU reached out to the District Department of Transportation to see why those ideas weren't included.

ANC Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green said on Twitter that Bowser's announcement "seems more about calming emotions, not actually addressing why our roads are so violent. As someone that was recently hit by a car while riding a bike, we need a greater commitment to improving infrastructure to slow down cars. No more asking."

Bowser hinted at what seemed like a large announcement for school transportation safety last week but said the idea wasn't fully baked yet.

Resident Mark Blacknell, frustrated with the meagerness of Bowser's initiative tweeted, "somebody please put this back in the oven. It's not done yet."

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

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