District sees rise in pedestrian safety issues

Two students crossing H Street were struck by cars in separate incidents last week, highlighting a growing pedestrian safety issue across the region.

The number of cases where a motorist struck a pedestrian – someone either walking or cycling – increased by about 24 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to data provided by George Branyan, the pedestrian program coordinator for the District Department of Transportation’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration.

The District, along with jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia, launched a new spring campaign last week as part of the Street Smart program, which has used advertisements to educate motorists and pedestrians about traffic safety since 2002.

The Street Smart campaign is paired with the enforcement of traffic safety laws by the Metropolitan Police Department, Branyan said.

“You’ve got to have enforcement with education messages,” Branyan said Friday, noting the combination of these two things can help change behavior.

This was the second year the District saw an increase in vehicle-pedestrian crashes, he said.

Last week two crashes occurred in the 2100 block of H Street, a street that sees a lot of foot traffic due to the location of Gelman Library, the Academic Center and the Marvin Center.

Just before 8 a.m. Tuesday morning a car struck a female student outside Schenley Hall, located in the middle of the block.

The student was transported to GW Hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Wednesday, a car struck a male student near Gelman Library just before 11 a.m.

“A student walked out between parked cars around H and 22nd streets and was struck by an automobile,” University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said. Witnesses said the student was hit by a side-view mirror of the car, and Sherrard said he declined medical treatment.

D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer said D.C. Fire and EMS responds to about four or five pedestrian crashes a day in the District.

Specifically on campus, University Police Chief Kevin Hay said his department doesn’t keep statistics on motor vehicle accidents since it’s not within UPD’s mission to do investigations of incidents on city streets.

Hay said jaywalking is illegal, however, and can result in a citation. But UPD isn’t empowered to issue citations for traffic violations on city streets.

“Because our campus is intersected by busy urban thoroughfares, pedestrian safety is very important to the entire GW community,” Hay said.

Even following traffic signals may not be a foolproof way to stay safe around D.C., Branyan said.

Data show that of the 552 crashes last year where the pedestrian’s action was known, about 35 percent occurred when someone walked in a crosswalk with the signal. Typically motorists are turning a corner when both the car and pedestrian have the right of way, resulting in the crash, Branyan said.

Though Branyan said 29 percent of the incidents involved a pedestrian outside of a crosswalk, more deaths occurred when the person was outside of the crosswalk.

“Cars are going relatively slowly near a crosswalk. If you get hit at 40 miles per hour, there’s a 90 percent chance of you dying,” he said.

To improve current crosswalks, Hay said Assistant Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell recently submitted a UPD list of 41 locations to the D.C. government requesting that crosswalks around campus be repainted and repaired.

The maintenance request isn’t done every year, but Hay cited last year’s large winter storms and the effects of plowing snow from the streets as reasons for the repairs. Repairs will range from a complete repainting to minor touch-ups.

“We have assurances that this work will begin soon,” Hay said, but he noted the city may wait for warmer weather before work begins.

As the University addresses crosswalks, DDOT is also working on changing pedestrian light signals at intersections to improve safety for pedestrians.

Known formally as a “leading pedestrian interval,” the crosswalk lights are timed so the pedestrian has the green light to start walking about three seconds before the light directing cars changes.

Branyan said this gives those walking a “head start,” and DDOT has already made the change at about 60 intersections across the city. The goal is to change signals at 100 locations by mid-2012.

“These will be targeted to intersections with a higher incidence of turning vehicle [and] pedestrian conflicts,” he said.

While no intersections on GW’s campus have changed signals, Branyan said locations near campus include the intersections of 19th and M streets, 21st and M streets, 19th and L streets, and 21st and L streets.

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