By Aaron Pritchard, Chief of Staff

Yesterday, WAMU reported that D.C. has a higher rate of pedestrian fatalities than the national average. With the news coverage during the first half of 2013 this should come as no surprise.   On consecutive days along Councilmember Grosso’s commute several pedestrians were hit near Union Station and another just up the street on 4th and Massachusetts NW.   After the second accident he came into the office distraught about the dangerous situation for pedestrians in our city. Our office hatched the “Safety First” initiative on that day in mid-June.

The “Safety First” initiative focuses first on improving the safety of our most vulnerable and common users of transportation – our pedestrians. Yes, many people drive, others take the metro or ride buses, and a growing number of residents bike to work – but pedestrians are everywhere, all day. Grosso’s question was: how could we begin to improve pedestrian safety in the District of Columbia immediately? We started with legislative and oversight efforts focused on pedestrian safety.

First, we inserted Budget Support Act (BSA) language that mandates that DDOT (D.C. Department of Transportation) create a safety nexus for speed cameras throughout the city. Grosso’s theory, created after months of campaign questions about speed camera’s, was that if DDOT were to incorporate speed cameras into its safety calculus, then we could use that analysis to reduce the number of serious pedestrian/car collisions in D.C.  The desired result would be that D.C. residents would trust that when speed cameras are installed, the government was motivated by improving safety, and not just increasing local revenue. D.C. residents support speed cameras, and red light camera’s, in their neighborhoods and on streets near their homes, because they understand that reducing the speed of cars creates safer communities. Our office anticipates that a safety nexus for speed cameras, rather than focusing our limited camera resources on generating revenue, will improve pedestrian safety.

The second idea came when Councilmember Grosso heard about the successful reduction in pedestrian injuries when Traffic Control Officers (TCOs) were deployed in a pilot project on Wisconsin and M Street NW. The officers issued enough tickets to cover the cost of their time working while also improving traffic flow and, most importantly, improving pedestrian safety at the intersection. We had heard of rumors of political and other reasons (not including safety) driving decisions on where TCO’s were located so we included language in the BSA that would require DDOT to identify the top ten most dangerous intersections in D.C. and to prioritize the placement of TCO’s at these intersections.

With TCO’s covering the most dangerous intersections, a secondary impact can be realized in identifying and publicizing the most dangerous intersections in our city. It is Councilmember Grosso’s hope that local activists, once notified of a dangerous intersection in their neighborhood, will pressure the D.C. Council and the Mayor’s office for more safety resources at that location. These efforts may include: educating pedestrians of the dangerous locations; implementing traffic calming devices and enforcing traffic safety laws.

Finally, during the DDOT performance oversight hearing Councilmember Grosso noticed that DDOT was not using pedestrian safety data in their agency performance measures. As a result, they were also not reporting pedestrian safety data in their yearly performance report to the D.C. Council. Councilmember Grosso raised this at the performance and budget hearings noting that pedestrian safety should be a top priority at DDOT and he requested that they include pedestrian safety data in their annual performance measures for the agency. 

Our office recognizes that there are many transportation priorities in D.C. – the streetcar, bike lanes, and other various modes – but we are keenly aware that focusing on pedestrians must also drive DDOT’s policy decisions and performance measures. Everyone, regardless of age, disability, or choice of locomotion is a pedestrian at some point. We must do better to ensure that our pedestrians are our highest priority. DDOT agreed to include pedestrian safety this year in their performance measures as a result of Grosso’s questions.  Our office looks forward to analyzing this data next year in the performance hearings.

Councilmember Grosso’s “Safety First” initiative is just a small first step, but we will continually use it to focus DDOT’s efforts on improving pedestrian safety in D.C. and on making our communities safer places to walk. If you have any suggestions or ideas for improving pedestrian safety, please contact me at .

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.