From creating safer and more efficient transportation to revising GW’s COVID-19 isolation policy, everyone from city officials to University leaders is searching for solutions in this week’s headlines. But for every step forward this week, there seems to be at least one step backward.
An electrical fire and widespread delays are overshadowing new Metro General Manager Randy Clarke’s plans to improve service. Above ground, the D.C. Council’s transportation committee has approved legislation that would make walking and cycling in the city safer.
But as traffic fatalities continue to mount in the District, the deaths of an alumna in a car crash in Indiana and a pedestrian struck by a driver on Virginia Avenue remind us that D.C.’s and the country’s streets and roads are as dangerous as ever. And while GW’s new “isolate in place” policy may beat roughing it in a hotel room, there’s still cause for concern.
Here’s the best and worst of this week’s headlines:
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Randy Clarke started his role last week with a trip from Metro’s Foggy Bottom station. Clarke’s entry also delivered some positive news – shorter wait times on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines with more rail cars, including the 7000-series, returning to service.
Clarke may want to put WMATA back on track, but he’s playing whack-a-mole – as soon as Metro makes marginal improvements, there’s an embarrassing failure somewhere else. An electrical fire in a train tunnel Saturday caused a temporary service shutdown on the Red Line, and a network issue that prevented operators from accurately tracking trains gave way to even more service delays across all lines Wednesday.
Good luck, Mr. Clarke – you’ll need it.
Moving from mass transit to personal transit, the D.C. Council’s transportation committee approved the Safer Streets Amendment Act of 2022 last month, one week before the driver of a Mack truck struck and killed Shawn O’Donnell – the 21st person killed in a traffic accident this year so far – while she was biking at the intersection of I and 21st streets. The act would prevent drivers from turning right on red lights at most intersections and allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs rather than coming to a complete stop, reducing the chance of a collision between all road users.
Just two weeks after O’Donnell was killed, two people have died in vehicle collisions both literally and figuratively close to GW’s community. The driver of a car struck and killed an unnamed male pedestrian at the intersection of E Street and Virginia Avenue Wednesday, bringing D.C.’s total traffic fatalities to 22 this year. In Indiana, 28-year-old Emma Thomson, a School of Media and Public Affairs alumna and communications director for Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., was one of four people to die Wednesday in a car crash that also killed Walorski.
Though hundreds of miles apart, the tragic loss of the male pedestrian and Thomson are part of the same public health crisis – our streets and roads are killing us. From 2019 to 2021, the number of traffic fatalities jumped from 27 to 40 in D.C. Over the same period, nationwide traffic fatalities rose from 36,096 to 42,915. If we want to save lives, it’s going to take more than reviewing the rules of the road – we have to dramatically rethink who and what our streets and the vehicles on them are for.
Regarding another health crisis, officials announced in an email Tuesday that GW will institute an “isolation in place” policy for residential students with COVID-19 this academic year. That’s a marked departure from its previous policy of isolating sick students in other residence halls or nearby hotels last year to prevent the spread of the virus.
Talking about isolating with your roommate like you would with washing dishes or taking out the trash is almost as hilarious as it is contagious. But on a more serious note, this policy change is an indication that we’ve entered the “you figure it out” phase of endemic COVID-19 at GW even as the virus continues to spread and reinfect people across the country. And while that may be a cause for celebration among some members of the University community, it’s giving me a sense of dread – by definition, public health isn’t a private matter.
Ethan Benn, a rising junior majoring in journalism and communication, is the opinions editor