Boy’s Death Spurs Debate Over Traffic Safety

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The boy that was struck by a woman driving her car near the intersection of Wisconsin and 33rd St. died yesterday. This has lead at least one news source to question whether that intersection is safe without traffic lights or stop signs.

The question of who is more at fault for the tragedy has  not been publicly answered. WJLA has eye witness reports that the child ran into the street and was not crossing at the crosswalk. A woman claims, however, that the driver wasn’t paying attention and was using her cellphone, although it’s not clear whether this source saw the accident first-hand.

Either way, a tragedy has occurred in Georgetown. It seems indisputable to GM that the design of the intersection played some role in the collision. It is an intersection in the middle of a long stretch of road without a light or sign controlling Wisconsin Ave. traffic.

But any attempt to install a light at the intersection would likely be faced with opposition. Why? Because of what happened just a few feet away when DDOT installed a light at Reservoir Rd. and Wisconsin. Namely, it induced traffic onto Reservoir Rd. just west of Wisconsin that was otherwise discouraged from using that road by the difficulty of turning left onto Wisconsin.

33rd St. already gets a lot of northbound traffic from drivers attempting to avoid congestion on Wisconsin. This congestion is discouraged somewhat by the perceived difficulty of turning onto northbound Wisconsin. Adding a light would change that.

Is opposition from residents of 33rd st. a good enough reason from adding a light at that intersection? GM thinks not, if traffic engineers conclude that a lighted traffic crossing is the best way to increase the safety of that intersection.

But Georgetown has more than one dangerous crosswalk without traffic lights or stop signs. Including:

  • Volta and Wisconsin
  • P and Wisconsin
  • O and Wisconsin
  • Grace and Wisconsin
  • South St. and Wisconsin

Should we install a light at each of these intersections? Probably not, but how about a stop sign? GM thinks we should. He can speak from experience that it is intimidating attempting to cross Wisconsin without a traffic light or stop sign. Knowing that a stop sign is there to reinforce the notion that the car shouldn’t just cruise through the intersection would be comforting. (Notice the first clip in the piece above: a car honking at a pedestrian for crossing legally. That’s the attitude we have to deal with.)

What do you think? Is there something else we can learn from this tragedy?



Filed under Transportation

18 responses to “Boy’s Death Spurs Debate Over Traffic Safety

  1. Michael Kessler

    In spite of these un(der)-regulated intersections, you hint at the more basic problem: driver aggression and/or inattention and a failure to maintain a basic level of awareness of others using the streets. I regularly encounter near misses from cars while I walk through 4-way stop intersections, in the crosswalk, after I arrived first and/or waited for a car to proceed. Many (but not all) of the vehicles’ plates are from VA or MD, many apparently in a hurry to cut through Georgetown, using it as an extension of the beltway.
    Without adequate–even aggressive–traffic monitoring and patrols, we will continue to see these kinds of accidents.

  2. Ken Archer

    The wide southbound lane on Wisconsin (it’s one wide lane) encourages faster, less-attentive driving. We should have 2 narrower lanes (northbound and southbound) and a dedicated bus lane, as the Georgetown Transportation Study recommended. This would also get more people out of their cars and onto the numerous buses on Wisconsin, which would make it even safer.

  3. Lou

    When/If lefts are allowed from M to Wisconsin, that may relieve a lot of 33rd street’s traffic.

    That is a terrible intersection to deal with during the AM rush, and I’m not sure the light at Reservoir did not make that short stretch of Wisconsin worse.

    Did DDOT ever study integrating both 33rd and Reservoir into the new traffic light operation?

  4. Jonthan

    drivers routinely ignore pedestrian crosswalks. put up a PED XING stop sign, post a cop there, and start issuing tickets. I effing hate DC drivers. worse than NY or any other city I’ve ever been west of kuwait city

  5. Carol Joynt

    Its a terrible spot and because of the traffic lights not being synchronized it makes for added congestion and driver impatience. Drivers often play a game of chicken at this intersection, seeing who can achieve their turn before the other. Bus drivers in particular. But what matters is that a child is dead and his death should have meaning; maybe this section of Wisconsin will be re-addressed by SOMEONE. Jonthan is correct: DC drivers are among the worst.

  6. Andy

    @Lou – that is a great idea.

    WMPD should start ticketing drivers. I’ve notice on 37th, an often used alternative to Wisconsin, that drivers (cars and busses) don’t come to a full stop at the many intersections and just cruise on through. A few days a month issuing ticket$ would likely discourage such behavior.

  7. Carol Joynt

    PS- When I said DC Drivers I’m including MD & VA

  8. asuka

    The problem is DC’s lax attitude towards inattentive driving and poor pedestrian behavior. In Los Angeles, the LAPD takes a zero-tolerance policy towards both driving and pedestrian infractions. Failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk? Get a ticket. Speed through a yellow light? Get a ticket. Talk on your cellphone? Get a ticket. Conversely, if a pedestrian jaywalks, they also get a ticket. I was once pulled over by an LAPD cruiser…for jaywalking! The result is drivers who respect pedestrians, and vice versa. Spend some time in downtown LA – you’ll be amazed to see gaggles of people all patiently waiting for a walk signal before they cross the street. The MPD needs to make the enforcement of both driving and pedestrian laws a priority.

    As for adding an additional lane to that stretch of Wisconsin, that’s ridiculous. While the single lane between R and Q is wide, its not so wide that another lane could fit. Further, the road tapers, returning to a regular size by Q, so any hypothetical additional lane would be eliminated within two blocks, creating a nightmare of a merger at an already congested intersection.

  9. Ken Archer

    The solution to pedestrian fatalities is not to facilitate more driving with stop lights. The idea that driving can be both significantly safer than it is today, and just as easy, has been an unfulfilled promise for 50 years. LA has a traffic fatality rate no lower than the rest of the country.

    There’s no way around it: driving will only become safer when it is done at significantly slower speeds and less often. The former (slowing drivers down with traffic calming measures) leads to the latter.

    Until we make a decision as a community that our positions with respect to roads, transit and parking will be animated by a desire to get people out of their cars, rather than inducing people to drive through Georgetown more, we will continue to have these traffic injuries.

  10. Carol Joynt

    Perhaps they will name this intersection after the dead child, as Wisconsin and M was named after Joe Pozell – also hit by a car – and over time enough intersections will be named after dead people to prompt effective action.

  11. asuka


    “LA has a traffic fatality rate no lower than the rest of the country.”

    Can you provide a source for that statistic? Is that number measured in miles traveled?

    Cars are here to stay. Can we get more people out of their cars? Sure. Can we get most people out of their cars? No – its just no practical for the vast majority of people (not everyone can afford to live in a neighborhood as walkable and accessible as Georgetown). If you’re waiting for the majority of Washington-area residents to get out of their cars and get on the (perennially broken) Metro, you’re going to be waiting a very long time. Until then, we can demand that those who drive do so carefully by making sure that law enforcement (both police and courts) takes driving and pedestrian infractions seriously.

  12. Avice

    As a resident of Volta Place — and someone who travels up & down Wisconsin Avenue enroute to work — I am reminded every day of the complexity of this vehicular/pedestrian environment. Even well-marked pedestrian crossings are no guarantee — against motorists who whip around a driver who has stopped to allow someone to cross or pedestrians who decide to cross the street in a random pattern. It takes incredible concentration and focus. I feel for the child’s family, for the driver, and for our community. We need, always, to be attentive.

  13. Ken Archer

    LA County had 2.05 pedestrians killed per 100,000 people (201 fatalities) in 2008. DC had 1.52. The national average is 1.44.

    Traffic-related fatalities are the leading cause of death between the ages of 1 and 34. Pedestrians are 36 times more likely to die from a traffic accident.

    The latter report explains how to bring these numbers down – through “high-quality streetscapes”. Reducing lane widths, adding curb bulb-outs, bike lanes, and other streetscape measures calm traffic and reduce traffic fatalities.

    “Per mile and per trip walked, Americans are roughly three times more likely to get killed than German pedestrians and more than six times as likely as Dutch pedestrians. Per mile and per trip cycled, Americans are twice as likely to be killed as German cyclists and more than three times as likely as Dutch cyclists. Furthermore, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths have declined far more in both countries than in the United States. The Netherlands and Germany have invested heavily in high-quality streetscapes for safe walking and bicycling, making nonmotorized travel a norm compared to passenger vehicle travel. The United States has seen virtually the opposite—an interplay of land use, housing, and transportation patterns that have promoted low-density sprawl, high-speed roadways, narrow or no sidewalks, unsafe or no crosswalks, the absence of bicycle lanes, and inaccessible or no public transportation at all.”

  14. asuka

    @Ken Archer

    Those statistics are by population. Statistics by miles traveled are the only relevant metric.

    There are many significant reasons why Europe and the US differ with regards to transportation choice, the most significant of which is not investment in bicycle infrastructure. The primary factor is urban density, which was not so much a conscious choice as it was a legacy they inherited. They live in cities that were built millennia before the automobile, which makes the logistics of driving significantly more difficult. Their bicycling and public transportation culture arose from convenience and necessity, not social consciousness.

    You can use this tragedy to push whatever agenda you’d like (and you seem happy to do just that), but if the goal is to make an immediate impact on DC traffic fatalities, then we should demand rigorous enforcement of vehicular and pedestrian laws, not wait a century while we figure out how to totally re-engineer the American cityscape.

  15. Ken Archer

    We all want a safer Georgetown. I have a 20-month-old and live on 33rd between Q & Dent, around the corner from this accident. I’m terrified of the safe fate befalling my little boy.

    On New Jersey Ave NW last October a 2nd grader was struck by a driver during International Walk to School Day. That neighborhood (Shaw) is pushing for traffic calming measures like raised crosswalks as a result.

    Traffic calming measures are actually relatively quick to implement, and have far lower ongoing operational costs than focusing on enforcement. We could have narrower lanes on Wisc, curb bulbouts in the neighborhood, and raised crosswalks across Wisc at Hyde and Hardy within a year or two if we told DDOT that we want these things.

    Examples of many calming traffic calming measures can be seen here: They work. They reduce fatalities for drivers and for pedestrians.

  16. Pingback: Wisconsin Ave. Needs a Major Overhaul «

  17. Bruce in DC

    I was nearly run down in DC last night. Trapped in the middle of a marked cross walk, with cars in a line allowing 2 feet between each car. Is there a way to report this? Like a DWI number?

    Alot of us chose to pay more, or forgo a McMansion to live close to work. We save gas and the environment by walking. Alot of the offenders are paying cheap to live out of town, and make up for the time by ripping through our neighborhoods. Make cut-through traffic pay for speeding, and the problem will be reduced. More speed bumps and lights.

  18. Ken Archer

    This is a common experience for folks who actually walk alot in the neighborhood, particularly parents and nannies walking young children. It’s terrifying.

    Georgetown’s streets can’t handle speed bumps, and enforcement is expensive. The solution is traffic calming measures that narrow the road, such as bulbouts at intersections. Bulbouts would shorten the distance pedestrians have to walk in the street in half, while communicating to drivers the need to watch for and yield to pedestrians.

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