I scratch my head in consternation over the resistance to photo enforcement. As a pedestrian who walks everyday, I continue to experience near-misses, and I wonder when my luck will run out. Most recently, I was attempting to cross Belt Road at Brandywine during rush hour, and when I stepped out, my friend yanked me back as a car blew through the stop sign to make a left. The driver never saw me. Then just a block later the light turned red, and I got the walk signal and again a yell from my friend, but I noticed in time as a car going west on Nebraska barreled through the red light.
I went home, not at all pleased, and emailed Commander Reese and copied Chief Lanier and Councilmember Mary Cheh. I had no illusions that this would do much good. I mentioned in the email that although there have been robberies in Tenleytown and Chevy Chase at gun point, that I felt more at risk of bodily harm when crossing the street. Unfortunately we do not demand the same kind of action from the police for pedestrians being hit by motorists. And we should.
It is not unusual for the driver to be excused from responsibility in a pedestrian crash. In fact, I once sat in a meeting on the Pedestrian Advisory Council when a police officer representing MPD reported that all pedestrian crashes and fatalities were pedestrian error. Well, I told him a thing or two since I had looked at the data myself.
[quote_right]Although there have been robberies in Tenleytown and Chevy Chase at gun point… I felt more at risk of bodily harm when crossing the street.[/quote_right]The fact is, speed kills. The speed limit on Connecticut Avenue is 30 miles an hour. The risk of a fatality if hit by a car at that speed is 45%. At 40 MPH it is 85% with older adults at even higher risk. So every time a driver decides to speed (and it is a decision to go 40 miles an hour on a street like Connecticut where people live and shop), this is reckless endangerment.
Now, Lisa Sutter, head of photo enforcement, is one of the best public servants I have come to know. She cares about protecting pedestrians, and what protects pedestrians also protects the driver. She knows that photo enforcement changes driver behavior. I first met her in 2010, when she gave a presentation on the near future expansion of photo enforcement. She would be getting more equipment that is mobile for speed and red light enforcement, but that’s not all. Technology would be developed for ticketing motorists who, block intersections during rush hours, barrel through stop signs and do not stop for pedestrians in cross walks. This would be a boon to parents crossing Connecticut Avenue with young toddlers on their way to the Franklin Montessori Preschool, who often have to thread their way through cars blocking the crosswalks at Albemarle and Yuma or turning into them during rush hour.
There has been much talk of photo enforcement being an undercover commuter tax or a revenue generator. It is only a revenue generator if cars continue to violate the law. This is a choice. In reality the behavior of drivers changes quickly and revenue falls precipitously. Lisa keeps good data on this. You can see the impact on Porter Street and Fox Hall Road photo enforcement in the following graphs.
But beyond photo enforcement, we need a comprehensive program of traffic enforcement in our city to make our streets safer. We can also do our part. Drivers can obey the speed limit, come to a complete stop at the stop bar before making a right turn on red, and stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, which are at every intersection with or without a marked crosswalk. Pedestrians can cross with the light in the crosswalk at such intersections. And all of us can get off our smart phones and take out our ear buds and pay attention when driving and walking.
Phil Mendelson, as chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee, is holding a hearing on pedestrian safety on May 30 at 10:00 AM at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, room 412. Email [email protected] to sign up to testify. Tell your story about difficulties crossing the street, near misses, or crashes. And post your story on the DC Pedestrian Advisory website. In order for police to take this issue seriously, we need to tell them our stories and keep doing so.
What’s your perspective? Share your thoughts in a comment and/or submit your own column to [email protected].