A three-car crash last Thursday morning at a trail crossing on the George Washington Parkway once again highlights the need for the National Park Service to take action on critical safety improvements.
A driver stopped for a cyclist crossing the parkway at a marked crosswalk, but when an approaching pickup truck did not slow down, the cyclist hesitated. It very well could have saved her life; the nasty rear-end crash resulted in two injuries. An eyewitness captured the aftermath on video:
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Trail users and parkway drivers can both attest to the constant danger at these crossings.
Solutions to these problems exist that would make the George Washington Memorial Parkway safer for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. But is the National Park Service interested in implementing them?
At least five unsignalized crossings are located near Memorial Bridge. Many of them cross two lanes, putting pedestrians in danger of a “double threat” when one lane of traffic has stopped but drivers in the other lane are unable to see the pedestrian in the crosswalk. Drivers hesitate to stop at all, as high speeds and heavy traffic on the parkway put them at risk of rear-end crashes like Thursday’s.
Although the video suggests a tunnel, there is a simpler, less expensive solution that NPS can implement relatively quickly: HAWK signals, which Alexandria and the District have begun installing. HAWK signals are activated by the crosswalk user and installed at locations where a traditional stop light would not meet traffic engineering standards.
Research has shown that HAWK signals are not only more effective than other traffic signals at getting motorists to safely stop at the crosswalk, they reduce traffic delay compared to traditional signalized mid-block pedestrian signals.
Since being included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices in 2009, HAWK signals have been installed across the nation. A news report from Providence, Rhode Island, explains how a HAWK signal works at one of that city’s most dangerous crossings:
At crossings on the GW Parkway, HAWK signals could be implemented in combination with vehicle stop lines that are farther from the crosswalk. This would improve visibility for all users and reduce the likelihood of a “double threat” crash, resulting in a significant safety improvement for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.
The recent Humpback Bridge construction resulted in significant improvements for Mount Vernon Trail users, and it shows NPS understands the trail is a significant reason to use the park. It’s now time NPS made these critical safety changes a priority for all users of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.